Who are the doctors we’re afraid of?

“Doctors enter medical school with the same mental health as their non-medical peers. We don’t start medicine with poorer mental health; poor mental health is an occupational risk of being a doctor.” – Dr Neela Janakiramanan. Read more.

Who are the doctors that you’re afraid of? Is it:

  • the overworked and burntout registrar that looks through you like you’re a part of the wall at morning ward rounds?
  • the consultant that always looks to your male colleagues for the answers?
  • your general practitioner who tells you to “slow down, you have to look after your mental health”?
  • the OSCE examiner with the punishing list of tickboxes in front of them?
  • yourself – soon to be intern, paralysed by fear that you will make a mistake, or not be able to cope?

The statistics around the mental health of Australian doctors and medical students are startling. Mental health difficulties are likely to have touched all of us in one way, shape or form throughout our lives both inside and outside of medicine.

A combination of long work hours, significant risk of fatigue and burnout, high pressure and emotionally taxing situations, and a medical system that fails to provide support, make the medical profession a perfect storm for poor mental health. Bullying and harassment is “as old as the profession itself” and is commonplace, with juniors suffering at the hands of their seniors all too often. To add to an already complicated situation, doctors and students feat stigmatisation as a result of speaking up and seeking help.

Why are doctors afraid of speaking up?

  • doctors and students fear being barred from practice
  • doctors and students fear that their peers will perceive them as being less competent, or weak
  • there is a tendency for victim-blaming; particularly around lacking resilience and the ability to cope

It is clear that the toxic culture of bullying in medicine needs to change. Thankfully, there is increasing awareness of the issues faced for students and doctors as they progress through their careers. There is also increasing awareness of the risks to patients in the current system.


  • Australians in the medical profession are more likely to suffer poor mental health than the remainder of the population.
  • There are multiple factors
  • Practice self care, look out for your colleagues, and endeavour to be part of the change that needs to happen within the culture of medicine to safeguard the health of both medical professionals and patients alike.

Collection #1: Socks for Docs

Dr Geoff Toogood (pictured), a cardiologist at Peninsula Health and BeyondBlue ambassador, accidentally wore odd socks to work last year. One of his colleagues noticed, and knowing about Toogood’s previous battles with mental health, asked whether he was OK – and so began the crazy socks campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness, create safe spaces to seek help, advocate for doctors and their mental health, and take action on changing the system. (images sourced here, here and here).

Other images sourced here, here, here and here.

If you or anyone you know needs help:


Check out The Vault’s reading & film recommendations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s