A national campaign dedicated to improving health and well-being among health care professionals recently recognized the Texas Medical Board (TMB) for its efforts to destigmatize physicians who seek help for behavioral health issues or other problems that might interfere with job performance.
All In: WellBeing First for Healthcare named TMB a “2023 Wellbeing First Champion” because it is one of 21 state medical boards that have changed intrusive language about behavioral health on medical licensure applications. According to the website for the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation – part of the coalition that created All In – medical boards can win this recognition by meeting one of these criteria:
- Ask one licensure question consistent with the Federation of State Medical Boards’ (FSMB) recommended language for addressing mental and physical health;
- Use supportive language around mental health and offer “safe haven” non-reporting options to physicians who receive care;
- Ask no probing questions about an applicant’s health.
TMB has met two of those criteria.
In 2020, TMB adopted recommendations made by FSMB and the American Medical Association (AMA) – with input from the Texas Medical Association – when it updated its licensing application and renewal questions, the agency says. The new question about behavioral health is less intrusive.
Previously, in 2009 – with TMA’s support and input – TMB had set up the Texas Physician Health Program (TXPHP), which is designed to help anyone getting a license through TMB to address behavioral health problems while avoiding potentially career-ending discipline by TMB. The program also is designed to help medical students.
“We’re proud to receive this honor for the board’s work modernizing licensing language that encourages disclosure of physical and mental health status without fear of negative repercussion,” TMB President Sherif Z. Zaafran, MD, said in a statement.
Even with the language change to the licensing question, many Texas physicians remain concerned about getting help for substance use disorder or other mental health needs, Katie McQueen, MD, a TXPHP board member and former medical director, told TMA members at Fall Conference in September. When they apply for or renew their medical license with TMB, they must answer this question:
“Are you currently suffering from any condition for which you are not being appropriately treated that impairs your judgment, or that would otherwise adversely affect your ability to practice medicine in a competent, ethical, and professional manner?”
Until TMB’s change in 2020, that question’s language was more intimidating and all-encompassing, asking physicians if they had been treated for such a condition in the past five years, Dr. McQueen said. That broader language needlessly forced many physicians to defend any mental health treatment they may have obtained.
TMA worked with TMB for about 15 years on the wording of the licensing question, says Marcia Collins, TMA’s associate vice president for medical education.
“Previously, it was focused on a diagnosis or treatment for these conditions while physicians felt the focus should be on whether it adversely affects the ability to work or learn,” she said.
TMA also helped TMB establish TXPHP. It is administratively part of TMB but also confidential from TMB, Dr. McQueen said. It was created as a way for physicians to get help, recover, and resume their careers before any disciplinary action is needed.
All In: WellBeing First for Healthcare was co-founded by #FirstRespondersFirst and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. The foundation was formed in memory of a New York emergency physician who died by suicide in 2020 after enduring job-related stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic but who refused to get counseling because of fears she’d lose her medical license.
Recent studies have shown a national burnout rate of more than 50% among physicians in practice, according to AMA. TMA’s Wellness First initiative can help physicians obtain counseling and other assistance.