Case Studies

Here are four fictional but typical case studies that can be used to illustrate the problems that we often face in practice:

  1. Dr New Needs Pethidine
  2. Dr Wonderful ‘Burns Out’
  3. Dr Predictable Becomes Depressed
  4. Dr Everlasting Lacks Insight

Common Difficulties Doctors Face

Doctors and other health professional experience troubles just as their patients do: workplace stress, relationship and family problems, financial worries and the rest.

In addition, doctors are responsible for the care and well-being of their patients and for avoiding errors, which means that they experience considerable stress in this regard.

As a highly regulated profession, many organisations and the community are interested in doctors’ performance and competence. It can be difficult to know whether the difficulties that a doctor may face have become a matter for broader concern. It is important to understand the requirements for mandatory reporting and when I should refer a colleague who may not be practising safely.

Work Stress

Work stress can arise from many sources, but the most commonly reported ones from DHAS data are:

  • Heavy workload, lack of collegial support, ‘compassion fatigue’ or burnout, and boundary issues
  • Difficulties with colleagues, criticism, discrimination, harassment, bullying and racism
  • Making mistakes
  • Dealing with a complaint


Expectations about doctors overlook that like anyone, doctors can make mistakes. Not all mistakes hurt anyone, but even the thought of a “near miss” can shake one’s confidence. If a patient has been affected, the best advice we can give you is to contact your medical defence organisation, not only to make the required notification, but to seek their advice about how best to address the situation1.

Dealing with a Complaint

It is natural to feel the need to protect yourself.

  • Wherever possible seek resolution before a grievance escalates into a formal complaint
  • Seek advice
  • Seek support: the distress involved in a medico-legal matter may have lasting effects on both the doctor and his or her family
  • Notify your medical defence organisation of a formal complaint of other legal matte

Anxiety and Depression

Despite the fact that we all know about anxiety and depression in our patients, we don’t often acknowledge that they can hit doctors as well as patients.

Under Your Health you can access the following online self-assessment tools:

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Try this AUDIT test to assess this for yourself.

For confidential advice, speak to the DHAS in your state or territory.


1 Wu, A. Medical error: the second victim. The doctor who makes the mistake needs help too. BMJ 2000 320 (7237): 726-7