Among the nearly 7,200 respondents (29 percent response rate), the team focused solely on the 1,112 surgeons (15 percent) who reported drinking behaviors that amounted to full-fledged abuse or dependence. Completed surveys that demonstrated an unhealthy, and perhaps even risky, pattern of drinking that did not amount to a diagnosis requiring treatment were not included in the final tally.
Surgeons who said they had made a major medical mistake over the previous three months were more likely to be struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence, as were those who were either depressed, emotionally exhausted, suicidal, "distressed" or "burned out."
Overall, alcohol issues were less prevalent among male surgeons, as well as among those who were older, had children, worked longer hours, were more often "on call" or were employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Doing this study to find out where we're at is truly remarkable for an organization like the American College of Surgeons," Oreskovich said. "But the idea is let's shine a light on it and get on with it. Because this may very well be an even bigger problem than the numbers now indicate, because many surgeons may not have completed the survey or [not] completed it honestly out of shame, guilt and fear," he added.
"But actually publishing this survey, and showing the high percentage of those who have a problem, we think is actually destigmatizing by its very nature. It kind of sets a precedent that it's OK to be ill," Oreskovich said. "And, hopefully, next time we do a poll more surgeons will come forward."
Dr. John Fromson, a co-director of postgraduate medical education at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote a critique of the study in the journal.
"The most important thing here is to note that physicians are not immune from these kinds of problems. And I th
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