The fallacy of either/or thinking in physician health

My favorite scene in the Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy opens the door in her just-landed house in Munchkinland, leaves black and white behind and steps into a new technicolor world. The colorless view she had wasn’t going to bring her home. This is the same fallacy of either or thinking in physician health.

Picture of Dorothy from Wizard of Oz peeking out from house and seeing color, just after landing in Munchkinland

I avoided psychiatric treatment for my bipolar disorder for far too many years and during that time, I continued to practice medicine. Some will view that decision as controversial or problematic. Some will believe that I should have stopped treating patients all together. But given the numbers of clinicians who have psychiatric conditions, I don’t think exorcising us all from the field is the way to go.

The fallacy of either or thinking

We all agree that clinicians shouldn’t practice when symptoms impair their capacity to do their job. But, we view this issue through an all-or-nothing, dichotomized lens: we feel that we must either overemphasize physician health at the expense of patient care or (the current state of affairs) place a premium on delivering care at the expense of physician mental health. We can see no middle ground. But, I believe that we can find ways to shift our black-or-white view. We can deliver excellent clinical care and tend to ourselves simultaneously. Our current mentality perpetuates a stasis where our colleagues suffer in silence or depressingly, end their lives. It is unacceptable to continue to ignore our peers by refusing to find middle ground between the all and the nothing.

Living in a world where we feel we must choose to either sacrifice our patients or ourselves perpetuates the unacceptable status quo currently embedded in the medical community. Here’s the important thing: When Dorothy opens the door, she finds more than a world of color. She finds those of good will who walk with her as she journeys down her yellow brick road. Let’s join hands so we can take care of both our patients and ourselves. Let’s travel to Oz together. If we do that we can eliminate the fallacy of either or thinking in physician health.

I wonder if any readers have struggled to take care of themselves?

Leave a Reply