Physicians' needs in coping with emotional stressors: the case for peer support

Arch Surg. 2012 Mar;147(3):212-7. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.2011.312. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Objective: To design an evidence-based intervention to address physician distress, based on the attitudes toward support among physicians at our hospital.

Design, setting, and participants: A 56-item survey was administered to a convenience sample (n = 108) of resident and attending physicians at surgery, emergency medicine, and anesthesiology departmental conferences at a large tertiary care academic hospital.

Main outcome measures: Likelihood of seeking support, perceived barriers, awareness of available services, sources of support, and experience with stress.

Results: Among the resident and attending physicians, 79% experienced either a serious adverse patient event and/or a traumatic personal event within the preceding year. Willingness to seek support was reported for legal situations (72%), involvement in medical errors (67%), adverse patient events (63%), substance abuse (67%), physical illness (62%), mental illness (50%), and interpersonal conflict at work (50%). Barriers included lack of time (89%), uncertainty or difficulty with access (69%), concerns about lack of confidentiality (68%), negative impact on career (68%), and stigma (62%). Physician colleagues were the most popular potential sources of support (88%), outnumbering traditional mechanisms such as the employee assistance program (29%) and mental health professionals (48%). Based on these results, a one-on-one peer physician support program was incorporated into support services at our hospital.

Conclusions: Despite the prevalence of stressful experiences and the desire for support among physicians, established services are underused. As colleagues are the most acceptable sources of support, we advocate peer support as the most effective way to address this sensitive but important issue.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Anesthesia Department, Hospital
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Hospital Departments
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Peer Group*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surgery Department, Hospital
  • Surveys and Questionnaires