February 5, 1973

The Sick PhysicianImpairment by Psychiatric Disorders, Including Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

JAMA. 1973;223(6):684-687. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220060058020

Accountability to the public, through assurance of competent care to patients by physicians and other health professionals, is a paramount responsibility of organized medicine.

Occasionally such accountability is jeopardized by physicians whose functioning has been impaired by psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism and drug dependence. An equally important issue is the effective treatment and rehabilitation of the physician-patient so that he can be restored to a useful life.

A sampling of boards of medical examiners and other sources reveals a significant problem in this area. Also indicative of the problem, and the difficulty organized medicine has in coping with it, are the numerous requests for guidance received by the American Medical Association.

The Council on Mental Health makes the following observations and recommendations:

  1. It is a physician's ethical responsibility to take cognizance of a colleague's inability to practice medicine adequately by reason of physical or mental illness, including alcoholism or