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Managing stress

Building resilience

Complaints and legal actions

Stressed-looking male physician standing in elevator

Stress following complaints and legal actions

  • Legal actions seldom name medical students.
  • A complaint or legal action does not mean you are a "bad doctor."
  • Legal actions and complaints are stressful for all concerned.
  • There are many common reactions to stress.

The majority of legal actions by patients in Canada identify practising physicians, but sometimes residents are also involved.

Legal actions seldom name medical students.

A physician receiving notice of a legal action may feel indignant, wounded, or depressed about the allegations made and the manner in which these have been stated.

Receiving a complaint or being named as a defendant in a legal action does not mean you are a "bad doctor." Even the most conscientious and competent physicians experience such difficulties.

The experience of the CMPA indicates almost all physicians dealing with a medical-legal problem experience stress.

The results of this experience can be long lasting. However, the initial strong emotions generally subside with time.

Eventually, most physicians are able to view the medical-legal matter with a greater degree of equanimity and detachment. They cope successfully with the stress and regain their sense of fulfillment and career satisfaction.

Common reactions to stress

Not unlike their patients, physicians experience stress in a range of ways:

  • anxiety and depression
  • self-doubt and blaming oneself
  • loss of self-esteem
  • denial
  • defensiveness and blaming others
  • sense of loss of image
  • helplessness — the sense of loss of power and control
  • anger and frustration
  • lack of trust in patients
  • insomnia
  • exhaustion
  • generalized aches and pains
  • headaches
  • palpitations
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • rumination on the case (perseverance)
  • need to talk about the complaint
  • social withdrawal and internalization
  • need to get away from work
  • reduction in working hours
  • wish to leave the practice or profession
  • family disruptions
  • use of alcohol or medications