Inquiring into our past: when the doctor is a survivor of abuse

Fam Med. 2012 Jun;44(6):416-24.


Background: Health care professionals like other adults have a substantial exposure to childhood and adult victimization, but the prevalence of abuse experiences among practicing family physicians has not been examined. Also unclear is the impact of such personal experiences of abuse on physicians' screening practices for childhood abuse among their patients and the personal and professional barriers to such screening.

Methods: We surveyed Massachusetts family physicians about their screening practices of adult patients for a history of childhood abuse and found that 33.6% had some experience of personal trauma, with 42.4% of women and 24.3% of men reporting some kind of lifetime personal abuse, including witnessing violence between their parents. These rates are comparable to or higher than those reported in prior studies of physicians' histories of abuse.

Results: Physicians with a past history of trauma were more likely to feel confident in screening and less likely to perceive time as a barrier to screening.

Conclusions: Given the high prevalence of prior childhood and victimization of both men and women physicians with the associated effects on their clinical work, we recommend that educational and training settings adopt specific competencies to provide safe and confidential environments where trainees can safely explore these issues and the potential impact on their clinical practice and well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Data Collection
  • Domestic Violence / psychology
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Psychometrics
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*