Unlike most other specialties, more men than women have presented to Practitioner Health from surgical specialties (59% vs 41%). Again, the presentations from this specialty are predominantly mental health concerns (90%, 68% common, 22% complex) whilst 9% of problems were addiction related.
Surgeons tend to have lower rates of reported mental illness than other specialties and this is reflected in the presentations at Practitioner Health. This lower rate of reporting could be due to having protective factors for developing mental illness (e.g. better resilience to cope with occupational stress). The competitive nature of surgery as a specialty might mean that those not suited to the pressurising environment may opt out of this career path, leaving only those who are very resilient to competition and stress. Surgeons also have close working relationships, allowing for sharing of distress and successes which creates a supportive environment.
The other alternative explanation for the lower rates of reported illness is that patients from surgical specialties display a greater reluctance to seek help. Some surveys support this theory, showing high levels of suicidal ideation (particularly in older surgeons) with significant levels of distress, anxiety and/or burnout.
Surgeons are subject to long and unpredictable hours. Coming in early, finishing late and working nights and weekends (sometimes when not even scheduled to) is often the norm for surgeons, putting them under a lot of pressure and making it difficult to achieve a sustainable work life balance. These factors, in combination with an attitude of keeping personal problems away from the workplace both might make it harder for surgeons to present to care than doctors from other specialties. Stigma surrounding mental illness might make doctors reluctant to appear anything less than tough and consistently resilient.
Doctors in surgical specialties tend to display personality traits such as commitment and self-sacrifice and these doctors deal with life or death situations in surgeries every day. THis places a heavy toll and responsibility on the individual doctor.
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