CHICAGO — With growing concern among the medical community and the public regarding physician and medical student depression, burnout, and suicide, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted policy during its Annual Meeting continuing its efforts aimed at improving physician access to mental health care. The new policy will help reduce stigma associated with mental health illness to ensure physicians are able to seek the care they need for burnout, anxiety, depression, and substance-related disorders without fear of punitive treatment or licensure and career restrictions.

“We are deeply concerned that physicians and physicians-in-training are oftentimes discouraged from seeking mental health services because they are afraid that publicly disclosing a mental health issue would unfairly stigmatize them and impede their ability to obtain a medical license,” said AMA Immediate Past President David O. Barbe, M.D. “Too many of our physician colleagues are dealing with burnout, depression and even suicidal thoughts — with physicians facing a higher rate of suicide than the general population. We must do everything we can to improve physician wellness and eliminate any barriers that stand in the way of physicians accessing needed mental health care services so they can have more meaningful and rewarding professional experiences and provide the best possible care to their patients.”

The new policy aims to help alleviate concerns about the presence and phrasing of questions on medical licensing applications related to a physician’s past health impairment. Specifically, the policy encourages state licensing boards to require physicians to disclose physical or mental health conditions that currently impair their judgment or would otherwise adversely affect their ability to practice medicine in a competent, ethical, and professional manner, or when the physician presents a public health danger.

Additionally, the policy urges any state medical boards that wish to retain questions about the health of applicants on medical licensing applications to use the language recommended by the Federation of State Medical Boards. This language reads, “Are you currently suffering from any condition for which you are not appropriately being treated that impairs your judgment or that would otherwise adversely affect your ability to practice medicine in a competent, ethical and professional manner? (Yes/No).”

The policy adopted today builds on the AMA’s continued efforts to prevent physician burnout and improve wellness, and support physicians throughout their career journey. Through the AMA’s Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative launched in 2013, the AMA is partnering with physicians, leaders, and policymakers to reduce the complexity and costs of practicing medicine so physicians can continue to put patients first. As part of this work, the AMA’s Steps Forward program offers a series of practice transformation modules designed to improve the health and well-being of patients by improving the health and well-being of physicians and their practices. These online modules focus on improving physician wellness, preventing burnout, and increasing resilience.

The AMA has also adopted numerous policies over the past several years to reduce physician burnout and create the medical school of the future to ensure a healthier practice environment for physicians and close the gaps that exist in medical education to improve the health of the nation.

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About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.