The Recovering Physician

Written by on May 3, 2012 in Features - No comments

By Jane Colley

What happens when a doctor needs recovery from drug addiction or mental illness? They once had to face their problems alone, but now physicians have a place to turn when their lives seem to have gone in an unfortunate direction. The Physicians Health Program helps identify, treat, monitor the recovery, and endorse the safety of health care practitioners who have a condition, mental or physical, which could affect their ability to practice with reasonable skill and safety. In this true story “Dr. Brown” speaks out about his alcoholism and how the PHP helped him achieve sobriety and regain his medical license.

He went six years without a medical license, repeatedly trying to break his twin addictions to opioids and alcohol. By 2000 he was drinking a half gallon of vodka every two days and working as a grocery store clerk. “I was very concerned whether I would live through my alcoholism,” he said. “It’s worse than most chronic diseases. It’s hard for someone who’s not an alcoholic to understand, but there is this profound loss of control. When you are addicted to alcohol the brain malfunctions and causes a constant compulsive and obsessive behavior, which eliminates the ability to control what you’re doing.”

His turning point came on a morning at home when he walked down the hall and noticed his young daughter sitting alone in front of the TV watching Sesame Street. He said, “It was an incredible feeling that came over me, that I would never be the kind of father she deserved unless I could get into recovery.” Within a few days Dr. Brown checked into treatment. Even though he did not want to drink anymore he found it very difficult to get through the cravings and the compulsions that accompany the physiological process of becoming sober. He feared that the cravings would eventually overwhelm him and that he would leave. However, after a month, the compulsions lessened, and within three months, they diminished even more significantly.

He asked the Physicians Health Program for help with his aftercare, although he was outside PHP’s usual purview since he did not have an active medical license. PHP staff, who had tried to help him years earlier without success, told him they would take him on as a client if he could remain sober for a year and undergo regular counseling.

At one year of sobriety, they admitted him into their program but, he said, “I didn’t know if I was ever going to practice medicine.” After three years of sobriety, Dr. Brown began to miss medical practice, and PHP officials encouraged him to apply for a license. He filled out the application, including details of his history of drug addiction. “I figured at least I’d have to go down and stand before the Medical Quality Assurance Commission (MQAC) and maybe have all these stipulations on my license for many years,” he said. “PHP went before MQAC and talked about me. On the strength of their recommendation and the documentation of my several years of sobriety they gave me a license. It was an incredible thing! I took the license to my PHP recovering doctors’ meeting.”

Now practicing again, Dr. Brown finds medicine more satisfying than ever before. “Helping other people is key—that’s part of the 12-step program,” he says. “My whole reason for living now is serving humanity. It makes practicing medicine so much better and now that I am sober I am equipped to make a huge difference.”

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