If you look for help on the internet, there is nothing available to advise you on how to proceed after you lose your medical license. Losing your medical license is similar to losing your life…you spent your whole life focusing on one goal- to become a doctor. So when you lose your medical license, it represents losing decades of sweat, blood and tears. You delayed gratification in order to gain knowledge and develop skills on the long training path to become a doctor. It started when you were only a teenager, sacrificing to get top grades in high school. Then you went onto college, where you competed with all the premed majors to get to the top of the class, and spent numerous additional months studying for the MCAT. Then you got to medical school, which was more endless hours studying medicine. The vast amount of medical information you had to learn in medical school was like drinking water from a fire hydrant. After graduating with an MD degree, you then had to spend years in residency learning the specific skills and knowledge of the medical/surgical specialty you chose, and spend endless hours on call with massive sleep deprivation. And additionally, when you finish residency, you still had to study to pass the specialty boards to become board certified in your specialty. As a doctor, you have sacrificed your teens, 20’s, and early 30’s for medical training, assuming you went straight through without interruption in training. Some train into their late 30’s and 40’s before becoming a fully trained and board certified physician or surgeon. Doctors literally spend decades to train and prepare for their calling.
No wonder doctors kill themselves after losing their calling, their identity, and their life. When you lose your medical license, it feels like someone you loved died. So it is like grieving for a loved one who has passed away. Losing your medical license instantly makes you a pariah to society. The medical boards that deal with you don’t give a damn about your well-being…they just feed the witch hunt and the public outrage. When you lose your medical license, you are basically on your own. What is shocking is that your physician colleagues will act in ways that are in opposition to their Hippocratic Oath. It is more like the “Hypocrite Oath-” they engage in the same behaviors that they condemn the suspended physician for. Hypocrisy knows no bounds. Suspended doctors are quite vulnerable and are in need of help and support, no matter their offence. But your physician colleagues just turn their backs on you, and they may even berate you, as if not enough damage has already been done. Doctors are the most judgmental group of people when it comes to suspended doctor colleagues. They can’t tolerate the image of the doctor being vulnerable and human. They hold onto the image of doctors as God-like and infallible, and the unrealistic public perception of them as Gods and infallible only adds to their collective delusion. Doctors are human, and they will make mistakes, some worse than others. But just like any other group of vulnerable people, suspended doctors deserve empathy and compassion, especially from the medical boards, medical societies, hospitals, and physician groups that are quick to judge and throw out the suspended doctor and excommunicate them.
So in this climate of doctor witch hunts, what is a suspended doctor to do? Here is a list of important items to consider:
- Stop the lies. Be honest with your friends and family about your wrongdoings. Promptly admit when you are wrong, and do not externalize blame for your wrongdoings on others.
- Do not talk to the media and disconnect your social media accounts. In this age of social media and news items going viral, news of suspended doctors are major clickbait, and the media can twist the truth to the point where they can feed the controversy and public outrage and further denigrate your image. Disconnect and terminate all your social media accounts- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress. You should not do anything online for a long time, until the dust settles and you are back on your feet. Again, do not talk to the media…they will spin anything you tell them to your disadvantage.
- Start liquidating your assets. If you are like most doctors, you most likely have large outlays and expenses that recur on a monthly basis. So when you lose your ability to earn an income from your medical practice, this is the time to reduce your monthly expenses to prepare for the possibility of not returning to medical practice for a long time, if at all. If you have a second home, consider selling that second home, or selling the primary home and moving into the less expensive vacation home. You also may need to liquidate some or all of your retirement savings. You need to make sure you have enough cash in your bank account to last you for at least 1 to 2 years.
- Get an assessment for depression and anxiety. If you have lost your medical license, this is a life-changing stressor that can lead to depression and anxiety. As there is a high likelihood that you may develop depression and anxiety, it is important to see you family doctor immediately to assess for this. The medical board investigations can be quite traumatic, and may put you at risk for developing a severe trauma-based anxiety disorder such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, you can develop PTSD from the actions of the medical board. In addition, developing a comorbid major depressive disorder (MDD) is highly likely.
- If you are harboring suicidal thoughts, then you should go to the emergency department and get an urgent psychiatric evaluation. Unfortunately, you may run into your former colleagues and staff at the local hospital where you previously held medical staff privileges. If possible, try to go to a hospital in a different region or city.
- If you have an addiction, then get help immediately. Addiction is a common reason for doctors losing their license. Do yourself a favor- get addiction treatment on your own, so that you can have more choices and more control over your own treatment plan. If you wait for the medical board to mandate treatment, you will find it very unpleasant. Look for a good recovery program, and admit yourself to their inpatient program for 30 to 45 days to get sober. This break will also get you out of the spotlight, as the media will be on a feeding frenzy about any news on you. After getting sober and when discharged from the recovery program, then you should participate in 12-step programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or the specific 12-step program that fits your addiction.
- Get on disability. If your family doctor or psychiatrist diagnoses you with a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, and/or an addiction, then apply for disability. The disability income will help you to pay your monthly expenses, and will allow you to focus on treatment and recovery for the mental disorder that you are now suffering from.
- If you are not totally disabled, ask your department chief or your practice partners to give you alternative work and income arrangements. If you worked at a teaching hospital and have an affiliation with a medical school, then you may ask to see if you can continue to do work from home, such as writing research articles on your topics of interest, or finishing up previous research your were working on. If you are part of a group practice, maybe your partners can give you work from home that helps with the administrative aspects of running the practice. Obviously, you can’t ask to see patients until your medical license is reinstated. But what these non-medical jobs can give you is some work to help you get some income and to distract you from your stressors with the medical board and your stressors in your personal life.
- Join a support group. A support group is very helpful, mainly from the standpoint that these people in the support group are non-judgmental. Everyone around you will be judging you, including your own family and friends. A support group is a life-line in that you can get support no matter what your problem is, and they will not judge you for it, as they have most likely gone through the same problems with their professional careers and personal lives. Ideally, you should join a support group for physicians and other health professionals who have been suspended.
- Get a non-medical job once you have recovered from your mental disorder. If you are not allowed to return to medical practice once you have recovered from your mental disorder, then consider obtaining any non-medical job to start earning an income again and to get some structure during your days. If you go and try to find a non-medical job, you will find that the high-paying jobs will most likely need a background check, and the history and public nature of the suspension of your medical license will automatically drop you from consideration for the position in most cases. Low-skilled and minimum wage jobs do not usually have you go through such background checks. So get any low-skilled job you can find…work in a fast food restaurant; work in a call center; work in a grocery store; deliver newspapers; drive a delivery truck; etc. Do anything to get back into the swing of things and get a job. Then you can start earning an income and live within your means.
- Seek career counselling. If it appears that you are not returning to your medical practice anytime soon, and you have recovered from your mental disorder, then it is time to seek the help of a career counsellor to help you decide on a career outside of medicine. It is about re-prioritizing your career and personal goals that are in line with your experience, knowledge and skills. And if you have a gap in knowledge and skills for a particular career path, then the counsellor can help you obtain this.
- Seek out a life coach or therapist who can help you get on with it. Simply leaving the bedside and hanging up your stethoscope is not an easy transition. All you have ever known was to be a doctor- this was your calling; this was your life. As such, it is important to get help and guidance from a life coach or a therapist who can help you with this transition in your personal life and relationships. In the end, what is the most important is that you can have healthy relationships with your family and close friends, and that you can provide again for yourself and your family. Once you get these basic needs met with relationships and self-care, then you can look at how to be a good citizen again, but this time not as a doctor.
- Resentment is poison. Let go of the anger. You have nobody to blame but yourself. No matter how unfair people treat you now, you only have yourself to blame for the predicament you are in. Sure, you may resent people or institutions that are treating you in a manner that you may not deem professional. But rise above it, and preserve your dignity. When you are in the wrong, promptly admit it, and think about how to make amends for that wrong, then carry it out. In that way, you take responsibility for your own actions in the wrong, while ignoring and moving beyond the judgmental opinions that people will have of you. Instead of being resentful, think about gratitude- gratitude that your basic needs were met today, and you are performing honest work now, no matter what your past offence.
At the end of the day, it does not really matter what you do…what matters is who you are. If you are honest, grateful, respectful, and considerate, then you can have any type of job, and still keep your dignity. You don’t necessarily need to become a doctor again. You can do other things that are important, and still contribute to your family and community.
How do I know all this? Well, I’ve been there, done that, and now moving forward. You have to place one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. And I’m helping people again, as seen in this website and the book I wrote to help those with anxiety and stress, Anxiety Protocol. For more information on dealing with stress, major life changes, work stress, and crisis, please visit AnxietyBoss.com. Stay tuned for future articles for the suspended physician: how to rebuild your damaged online reputation; how to switch to other non-medical careers; how to rebuild your personal relationships; and many other articles to give you back your dignity, life, livelihood, and happiness.