Wellbeing

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Recognising our own illness

As medical students, we initially think that we suffer from every symptom we read about. By the time we have graduated, we believe that we are immune from every disease we have read about. By now, "we're doctors, not patients".

We are each the first doctor to evaluate our own symptoms. The stage is set for denial.

When we do get chest pain, "it is merely indigestion and will pass". The heavy menstrual bleeding "is just a variation of my normal period". The alteration in bowel habit "is just something I've eaten lately". The last thing we want is for a colleague to think that we are hypochondriacs. A recent DHAS study found that one in four doctors had a condition warranting medical attention, but which they had neglected!

When we eventually consult a colleague, we play down our symptoms: "I'm sure it isn't anything serious".

When the colleague suggests investigations, "I'm sure it isn't really necessary to go to all that trouble. It's nothing, truly!".

When our colleague prescribes a medication, we say, "I am sure I don't really need that. Just give it a little time and the symptoms will go away."

If we suffer from loss of appetite, early morning waking, and an apathy towards life in general, "It's just overwork, too much paperwork, the stresses of the job. I need a holiday, that's all".

In general, then, we are bad patients. We play down our symptoms, delay consulting a GP, and are reluctant to take advice. Although we know that "the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a physician", we cannot help ourselves - we consult ourselves first!

If you are reading this web page, you probably have a concern about a symptom. Be smart - don't try to assess it yourself. Consult a general practitioner, even if you are a specialist who knows more about that symptom than anyone else!

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