13 Oct 2017

Queenstown doctor key in change to Hippocratic Oath

10:06 am on 13 October 2017

A burnout "crisis" in the medical profession has led a Queenstown doctor to push for a major international change, putting their own health on a par with that of their patients.

Stressed doctor, doctor burnout, burnt out doctor, doctor generic

Photo: Flickr / Eric NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A meeting of the World Medical Association in Chicago tomorrow is expected to approve a new clause in the vow that doctors take when they qualify.

Doctors have long been required to focus on their duty of care to patients.

For 2500 years they did this through the Hippocratic Oath and, since World War II, the Declaration of Geneva.

Now, however, their world body is poised to adopt a landmark change to the declaration, stressing the need for doctors to give priority to their own health too.

The key promoter of the move for doctors to give priority to their own health too is Queenstown doctor and entrepreneur Sam Hazledine.

He said it was time.

Sam Hazledine

Sam Hazledine said there was a burnout "crisis" in the medical profession. Photo: Supplied

"As a medical profession we absolutely put patient care first, and we should and that shouldn't change.

"But the problem if we've said patient care comes first and it's almost like, and therefore, I don't matter."

He told Nine to Noon the focus had been on the effect of the stress on doctors, but that research had showed it also led to depersonalisation, an emotional disconnection from patients.

"And we found that depersonalisation causes an increase in major medical errors," he said.

"So despite 'first, do no harm' being the core principal of our profession, the way we're being as doctors - in the majority of us - is actually causing us to harm our patients."

He said 87 percent of American doctors report they are stressed, while in New Zealand half of all family doctors say they are either burnt-out or approaching it.

Dr Hazledine, who quit practising medicine to found the medical recruitment agency, MedRecruit, said burnout was a "crisis in the profession".

With the New Zealand Medical Association's backing, he led a petition last year, signed by more than 4500 Australasian doctors, calling for the new clause in the declaration.

He said the best doctors were committed to their own health so they could do the best for their patients.

"They don't see it as 'I will sacrifice everything for my patients'. Rather they say 'I'll take care of my health and wellbeing so that I can be a great doctor, so that I can provide an exceptional level of care."

Auckland medical student and past president of the Medical Students' Association, Liz Berryman, said by the third year of medical school, up to a third of trainee doctors described symptoms of burnout.

She said an Australian study showed that one in five medical students were so stressed they had suicidal thoughts.

"The fact that we've had suicides in our year shows that we're not doing enough.

"There's definitely some anger in the student group at the moment, saying that we need to do more - one suicide is one too many."

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