Family physician and associate medical school professor Kyle Bradford Jones pulls back the curtain on physician well-being in this self-portrait of traumas suffered navigating the unhealthy rigors of medical training.
In convincing detail, Jones reveals a system that leads to alarming rates of mental illness among medical personnel, where “nearly one-third of practicing doctors meet full diagnostic criteria for mental illness.” Given the stigma against physician weakness, explains Jones, medical professionals are less likely to seek help.
To mine what lies behind this emotional fallout, Jones recounts childhood anxieties and fears of not measuring up. He details his time as a young Mormon missionary in Ukraine struggling with loneliness and doubts about his faith and, later, the self-imposed pressure to perform as he applies and, with a new wife, heads to med school at the University of Wisconsin.
His experiences as a resident leave him “nearly paralyzed with worry,” crippled by sleeplessness, severe gastritis, panic attacks, and compassion fatigue. Humiliated and bullied by attending physicians, he begins to question his self-worth and becomes severely depressed. The fallibility of colleagues shakes him to the core.
In time, Jones gains balance through counseling, prescription drugs, and behavioral remedies, such as practicing mindfulness. He becomes a healthcare advocate, works with developmentally disabled patients, does policy research, writes, and mentors residents.
Jones details the signs of depression, offering twelve ways physician well-being and performance can be improved. Even so, this isn’t an uplifting story. Jones still struggles to keep “the gargoyle” of crippling anxiety at bay and offers no permanent solutions for overcoming the disorder or avoiding mental illness. His narrative often suffers from repetitive, disturbing details of his destructive thoughts, and he mentions few inspirational mentors. In all, the anecdotal, nightmarish journey makes for a dark and wearying read.
Nonetheless, medical students, mental health professionals, healthcare activists and those interested in what goes on behind the scenes in hospitals and doctor’s offices will find much of interest here.