PHP Participant Stories

Your PHP Participant Story can help others and we would love to hear from you.  Please consider taking a few moments to write about how your PHP helped you in your recovery journey.  All stories are anonymous and could help make a difference in the lives of others.

Click here if you would like to share your PHP Participant Story.

 


Flourishing after Guidance and Therapy

June 25, 2020
Originally from Switzerland, I was fortunate to attend medical school at ETH Zurich-Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  I moved to the United States where I completed a five year Surgical Residency in acute care at a prestigious school on the east coast.  While the training I received during the 1970’s was one of the best in the country, I did not learn about how to handle stress and have appropriate professional boundaries in the operating room.

Being raised in a country other than the United States, I was used to communicating in a blunt, but joking manner. However, later in my career this was identified as harassment and I learned the nurses I worked with in the operating room felt uncomfortable with my demeanor.  I also was charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and eventually was referred to Colorado Physician Health Program (CPHP) for an evaluation. 

At first I felt reluctant to attend my evaluation; I was scared, worried and afraid of being judged. From the moment I arrived, I was treated with the utmost respect, care and understanding.  The CPHP staff were gracious and listened to me without criticism.  As part of my evaluation, I was also tested for a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), which thankfully I did not have.  I willingly took a variety of in-state and out-of-state classes. I was referred to a therapist specifically trained to work with physicians displaying signs of extreme stress along with professional boundary issues.

The help that I received from CPHP, the classes and therapy was invaluable, as I also realized that the pressure from the operating room was not beneficial for my health.  With guidance from my therapist and CPHP, I chose to change my occupational focus and am now flourishing in an administrative role, leading and guiding others. I do not know where I would be today if not for the confidential help and assistance of the staff at CPHP.


Entering the PHP Saved My Life

March 9, 2020
I first entered a PHP nearly fifteen years ago as a second-year resident. I had been struggling in many ways (depression, pills, overwhelmed as a resident). Entering the PHP saved my life, though at the time it was extremely scary. I attended a ninety-day treatment program and then began their program of groups, 12 step meetings, and therapy. I was a model participant with doing all of the “checklists,” but never really fell into the fold of the 12-step program. I did make some very strong bonds with some other members of the program and from my treatment center. I made a positive decision in my career to leave that residency and pursue a career in primary care. Time passed in a good way as I began to enjoy life again and I made plans to relocate to a different state due to family reasons. The PHP program was undergoing some major changes and I was “graduated” early in three years. At that time, I could not imagine ever using drugs again. I was referred to an attorney to discuss applying for a new state license who told me to never disclose my past of having a “problem with drugs” and going to treatment because I would never get approved. To my detriment, I did not enter another PHP upon my move.

I remained in recovery for three more years, but after having my first child, I had some postpartum health issues and untreated depression. I believe my relapse was triggered as a result. Without a safety net of a recovery community and robust PHP support, I nearly lost everything.

More than six years ago, the DEA intervened upon me in my office after I saw my first patient of the day and referred me to my state’s PHP. The PHP has saved my life and has given me back my professional career. It was a terrifying moment, but without the PHP, I am not sure I would have survived that day.

The director of the PHP has advocated for me from that day forward, every step of the way. I went back to a ninety-day treatment program and successfully completed it. This time, I focused and fully embraced the 12-step program. With counselors, I worked very hard on my spiritual development. My relapse was severe, and I had personal, professional, and legal consequences. Truly, I had to learn to live life one day at a time. Life was very challenging for some period of time in many ways, emotionally, physically, and professionally. I am grateful every day to just be alive. Ultimately, I was convicted in federal court in March 2014 of a misdemeanor, and it has been through my PHP and through many miracles that I returned to work in my town as a family physician. The DEA reinstated my license within a year, and I have committed to lifelong monitoring through PHP as I believe not staying within a PHP and not working a 12-step program were my biggest mistakes.

As with many PHP participants, early recovery is filled with many challenges and some small victories that feel huge to the participants. I have been extremely fortunate to be enrolled in such a supportive PHP. I had an incredible physician who happened to be my OB/GYN and had two more children in my recovery. I returned to work in 2014 and felt a sense of self-worth and the rays of sun slowly return to my life.

Today, I have over six years of recovery. I have a family that is truly supportive of my recovery. My closest friends are those in recovery. It is a beautiful community to join. We are fueled by a strong sense of gratitude. Recovery does not promise an easy life, but it is easier when I am in recovery.

I ran up and over three mountains to celebrate my five years of recovery in a challenging mountain race that took nearly eight hours to complete. Symbolic of my journey of peaks and valleys, I felt a push to send my career in a different direction, knowing it would take a lot of family support for me to go and work full-time with a young family. I am now working toward board certification in addiction medicine via the addiction medicine fellowship. Anything is possible in recovery. My PHP director asked me early on in my recovery to dream of my five- and my ten-year plan and keep working to achieve it.

The 12-step program is the cornerstone of my recovery. I like to think I am working on my faith and spirituality on a daily basis; it is always a work in progress. I believe that a strong PHP can save your life, your license, and your career if you are willing to follow directions and do the next right thing. By sharing my story, I believe I can help another healthcare professional reach out for help.

When we moved yet again, there was no question that I would join the PHP, although I have more than five years of recovery. As I applied for my state license, I had the opportunity to meet with the medical board to review my past and application. I informed them that I wanted to continue with a PHP indefinitely. The members of the board told me in surprised voices that I was the first physician to ever voluntarily do so. I hope I am not the last.


Deliverance: One Physician's Reflections on Redemption and Paying It Forward

March 9, 2020
I might have been frightened or sad, but I'd been numb for so long that I wasn't sure how I felt. I had been approached by the anesthesia residency directors, who were concerned that I'd developed a drug problem. I immediately denied this but acknowledged that I was impaired on the basis of depression, that I was suicidal, and that I was struggling. Apparently, they had seen this before because they did not press me for more, and only requested that I be admitted for psychiatric evaluation. And so, one of them, my mentor, accompanied me to my apartment, watched me as I packed up some things, managed to kick the trashcan full of broken vials and syringes out of view, and then drove me to a psychiatric facility. I learned later that the prior two residents approached by the staff actually overdosed after the intervention; he was just delivering me safely to a locked unit.

I never planned on telling anyone—that I'd grown tired of waiting for an antidepressant to work, that I'd felt overwhelmed by the rigors of training, by the deterioration of my marriage, and by a sense of dread that I was over my head—that I'd injected some fentanyl into my arm, on call, in the surgeons’ lounge at 2 a.m. And the syringes were right there, loaded up in my pocket, ready for emergency use. The relief was immediate and dramatic; I felt a sense of calm and well-being beyond belief. So, I made a crazy deal with myself, to just use this little remedy temporarily until my mood lifted, until the divorce was over, until whatever. I became lost in this ethereal world. When the shame and fear came up, another injection made them subside.

Having been caught, I was certain that admitting an addiction would be my end. But after not having to be a doctor, surrounded by other suffering human beings, I somehow let go. I allowed myself to be out of control, to be impaired, sick, needy. I asked the nurse to let me call my doctor late one evening before I lost my courage, and l admitted the truth. I was transferred to a substance abuse unit where I learned about my disease. I began to imagine that I could actually go on and find a way to live, that I still had some value, and that this disease could be managed. But there was nothing in place for me to deal with what was to become of my life as a doctor. When my insurance ran out, I was released to learn that the anesthesia department felt it best to not have me continue in the field: too much temptation.

I was very much alone then and didn't know what to do. How would I explain myself applying for work in an ER or as a house physician? Who would want such a deeply flawed and vulnerable specimen? I'd fallen far from the grace of my Ivy League education, fine recommendations, and promising academic future. Even my brother, my role model and greatest support, was heard to utter the conclusion that I'd ruined my career. I felt this, too, but I also had a notion of having narrowly escaped killing myself and ruining my chance of a life. ls there a place for a doctor who has flaws, who got depressed and addicted and acted badly? What happened to all that learning and desire to help?

I managed to get some work as a house physician, working the moonlighter shift on the medical floors of area hospitals. The truth is that during those nights in the CCU or on the medical floors as a house physician, uncertain and anxious, with no great teachers or inspiring leaders to watch over me, I discovered what being a doctor might be. I discovered that I'd been trained well and that I could still think right and do the job well. I was getting things right and helping people. I was not an imposter. Medicine seemed like an incredible gift, an honor, and maybe l still deserved a chance.

After being sober for eight months I got into a conversation with a lawyer in an AA meeting. He told me that if l wanted to continue in medicine, I needed proof that I was sober. Addicts lie and the medical community is aware of this liability; no one would believe me or should believe me without having a record of sobriety.

There was no physician health committee in Pennsylvania at that time, but other states had them. New Jersey was close by, so I became the first doctor to turn myself in to the New Jersey Physicians' Health Committee, looking for a monitoring program and professional support. This included years of random testing to support my sobriety and to face the consequences of filling out licensing and credentialing forms honestly. It also included advocacy and support. There were people there telling me that I could still practice good medicine and end up doing well if I was mindful of my very human limits. I became friendly with a psychiatrist around that time and ended up looking to complete my training by specializing in psychiatry. It was not easy and after five years of sobriety, most programs declined based on my addiction history. I remained candid and honest. I only needed one program to take a risk and I found one with a program director who believed in recovery—a fortunate event that brought me to an evolving and full career.

When I took my first professional job in Rhode Island and moved here, I joined the Physician Health Committee. l recalled my shame and self-doubt. I remembered my relief to find support within the medical community as well as the fortuitous way I learned about the need for advocacy. I wanted to return the grace and kindness shown to me. And I wanted to keep mindful of my own recovery in every way possible and to remain grateful.


“The PHP Saved Me” – A Story of Recovery from Depression and Attempted Suicide

July 22, 2019
In 2018 I hit a low point in my life. I had been suffering from untreated depression for some time which had worsened after my divorce. I spent the next few years sweeping it under the rug. However, after some significant life transitions, another failed relationship, spine injury and loss of a beloved dog, I felt hopeless. I made a poor decision and attempted suicide. After awakening in the ICU two days after an intentional overdose, I was introduced to the Physicians Health Program. I previously had not known of it's existence. Initially it was incredibly scary and I did not know what was going to happen. I was referred through the PHP for full psychological evaluation which ultimately confirmed severe depression. I began intensive counseling three times per week and started antidepressants. Though I had been at a low point in my life, I truly wanted to get better. I just did not have the ability to do it on my own. I actively participated in therapy and did whatever was asked by the PHP. Within 6 months I felt like myself again. I wasn't sad. I no longer thought about death. I felt, well, happy. Life began to look different to me. I had been provided a new chance at life. In short, the PHP saved me. It helped me get the help I desperately needed when I didn't have the strength to do it on my own. While it may not seem a perfect fit for everyone, for me it was life saving and I am now one year out and grateful for the help. 


Journey of Struggles but with a Light at the End of the Tunnel

April 1, 2019
I was referred to the Washington Physician's Health Program (WPHP) through my work due to health issues which prevented me from performing at my best level. Initially, I did not have much knowledge around how the process works and was very nervous about the length of time this will take. Once I met the WPHP team during the first interview, things were clearer and everyone was very receptive and caring. The team was considerate and allowed me to participate in the treatment program of my choice. I realized that they all wanted the best for me and this is what provided reassurance for me to enter the process of treatment feeling more comfortable.  During the time I was away for my treatment, the WPHP team worked with me and my treatment team throughout the course making sure that I got the appropriate treatment. They were flexible and made the time to accommodate me in their schedule for the phone encounters during my treatment. It was a smooth transition from my initial meeting with WPHP to entering treatment and finishing treatment, followed by continued monthly to every 3 month face to face encounters. Since I was not residing close to the main WPHP office in Seattle, the team made it easier for me by giving me the option to do Skype interviews so that I did not have to travel a long distance. What I really appreciated about the interviews was the team's wholesome approach to the client as a person than just a problem-focused approach. This made it easier for me to communicate and share my progress with them.

I am grateful to have gone through the process of treatment with the assistance of and coordination from WPHP, and to have gained my health back. I am doing much better and look forward to what the future has to offer. Thank you WPHP.


Realizing My Way Wasn't Working Saved My Life

April 1, 2019
Since 2009 I have had a problem with alcoholism. I tried to manage my recovery by myself, but was unsuccessful.  Through the years there were multiple attempts by WPHP to help me, but I remained resistant.

Recently through consultation with WPHP and following their recommendations, I have finally been able to achieve and maintain sobriety.  I am extremely happy with my life now, and credit WPHP with playing a critical role in helping me achieve it.

I will have to say that throughout my relationship with them I have always known that they had my best interests in mind, even though I resisted it.

My first contact was in 2009.  I did not agree with their recommendations, but did successfully complete the treatment program, and maintained sobriety for over 4 years.

Although I was not drinking, I did not pursue the recovery program they recommended.

My first relapse was in 2013.  I went to treatment.  Some significant issues were uncovered that may have been contributing to my relapses.  WPHP tried to guide me and I continued to try to do it my way, and was unsuccessful at maintaining my sobriety.

I lost my license in 2015, and WPHP discontinued their formal relationship with me,  However, they were willing to see me any time I initiated it. I struggled by myself, but it became clear that I would not be successful without their help.

Since June of 2018 realizing my way was not working, I decided to make some of the changes they had recommended.  WPHP has since met with me and helped me identify a rigorous program of recovery, and I feel it has saved my life.  I have never been happier or more hopeful.

Of course I want nothing more than to be monitored by WPHP and on my way to getting my license back. It would also be very important to me if in some way I could help other physicians, if somehow by sharing my story it would help.

Just saying thank you seems woefully inadequate, but thank you.


A Successful Pathway to Return to Work

April 1, 2019
I whole-heartedly believe that WPHP in its entirety (the staff, the weekly group, the other participants) saved my life. When I entered WPHP, my addiction had destroyed my health, my relationships, and my career. Signing up with WPHP initially was a last ditch effort to try anything to stay sober. Not only did it help me maintain sobriety, it exceeded what I could have imagined by fostering a supportive environment where I learned to develop a lifestyle of recovery. Most importantly, WPHP gave me hope when I thought it was all lost. In groups, I was able to meet other physicians that began in similar situations to me who were happily back at work, which gave me hope that recovery was possible. It was through numerous discussions with staff at WPHP that I discovered and started to see a potential future of my own. Through WPHP’s support and guidance, I have developed new friendships, healthy coping skills, and a structured pathway to safely return to medicine. WPHP is well organized, well-connected, and remains true to its primary goal of helping rehabilitate impaired physicians so they can successfully and healthily return to the practice of medicine. During my time with WPHP, I found that if I was willing to put in the work to recover, WPHP was able to effectively and efficiently advocate on my behalf to help me achieve all of my goals. It has been a blessing and a true privilege to be part of WPHP and to have access to its wonderful resources.  


My Story Is a Miracle

February 1, 2016
Oct. 12, 1988: DEA agents invaded my home in search of evidence regarding distribution of controlled substances. More than 70,000 doses were registered to me and not accounted for. That day was the first time I ever admitted (to the agents) that I was a drug addict. They had other ideas. This was the end of life as I knew it. 

My Pennsylvania medical license and DEA registration were suspended and revoked, as were hospital privileges. Felony charges were issued three years later. I had to stop using narcotics and that was not possible.

On Oct. 14, two days later, knowing that my supply was frighteningly low, I prepared for suicide. I prepared two syringes: one with Midazolam, and one filled with Pavulon. They were placed in my top drawer. That same day, an old acquaintance of mine, who had previously been in much trouble, accepted my call. He gave me a phone number and said, “You do not have to feel this way anymore.” And, he said, “Life can be beyond your wildest dreams.” 

The phone number was for the Pennsylvania Physicians’ Health Program. I spoke slightly honestly for the first time about my addiction. They sent a gentleman to my home to escort me to Marworth ― a rehabilitation facility. I have been involved with PHP as a participant, monitor, and committee member over the past 27+ years with continuous sobriety since day ONE. PHP provided the framework for my recovery, monitoring, and letters of support whenever needed. I owe them my life.

I resumed practicing anesthesia in 1989 and have been professionally successful since that time. This is a direct result of PHP intervention. My story is a miracle. My path would not have been feasible without the support and guidance of PHP.


Respect for PHP Participants

January 31, 2016

I wish to reiterate my support for the Missouri Physicians Health Program and the graduates of that program. I have found the typical graduate, in my personal experience, to be hard working, conscientious, and eager for a second chance. The benefits they have brought to my organization and my patients have more than outweighed any inconvenience or fear of bad publicity their history might have posed. Whether or not such an individual is right for your organization is, of course, for you to say. However, I wish to endorse giving these individuals a second chance and looking past your understandable fears and stigma. I’ll close with the heartfelt comments of a former patient and RESPECT institute speaker: 

What I would like people to learn from me is this. The definition of stigma for those with a mental illness is the rejection and blaming of people whose conditions are considered so fearful and disgraceful that they are judged to deserve their fate.”  


Recognizing & Addressing Depression

November 23, 2015

When I was referred to the state PHP, I was in my second year of residency.  The residency director recognized there were some things that weren’t quite right and said that I wasn’t performing to expectations.  “Not being quite right” is a good term for what I was feeling.  I had lack of concentration, was very cynical and extremely down.  I had no energy level and couldn’t remember anything.  As much as I wanted to deny I was depressed, there was no denying it.  Even though I had heard about our state PHP during orientation, I didn’t contact them because I didn’t want that label of depression.

One thing I’ve learned from our PHP and my private therapist is a lot of people diagnose depression as having low self-esteem or constantly out of energy.  When I described what I was feeling to the PHP Associate Medical Director, she told me these feelings and events were all normal reactions associated with depression. Though a part of me didn’t want to hear this, it was helpful because it motivated me to get treatment.  It’s been a complete 180 for me now.  After a couple of weeks, I noticed a change in mood and my colleagues have said I’ve made remarkable progress.   I’ve learned I need to take care of myself.  Doctors are usually not very good at this. 

While a part of me resented being sent to the PHP, I know it was the best thing that could have happened to me, personally and as a practicing physician.  I’m probably one of the best people in my clinic for screening and addressing mental health problems.  As I explain to my patients who deny they are depressed, it’s a funny thing in our culture that you can have diabetes, heart problems or endocrine problems associated with hormone levels in your body.  Why can’t you have something wrong with hormone levels in the brain? 


Confidential Support

November 11, 2015
The first time I knew our state PHP existed was when I received a call from a PHP clinician after my husband had his initial appointment. We were dealing with some health issues, but also his drinking. The clinician was very warm, asked questions to help with the PHP’s assessment of my husband’s condition, and encouraged me to call back if I had questions or needed support.  

 Despite being reassured, I was hesitant to talk much at that time. I had the notion that the PHP was connected with the Medical Licensing Board. The longer we were involved with the PHP, the more I understood the confidentiality policy and that the PHP was independent from the Medical Licensing Board, the less fear I had. The hardest part about doctors getting help is they can’t say “I have a problem” and get help without worrying about losing their license or being subjected to public scrutiny.

My husband’s drinking was affecting our relationship and our kids, but I also worried that it could affect his ability to do his job. He didn’t drink until work was over, but I wondered how long he could be on this path without it affecting every area of his life. The ironic part was the same year he was publicly recognized for his work. 

I believe that being in recovery has had a positive impact on my husband’s practice. It’s changed him overall. When we first got married, he was a caring person who I thought would be a great doctor. And as the problem progressed, I noticed him getting less that way, he seemed more quick to judge, probably because he was stressed. With treatment, he’s become the nice guy he used to be!


A PHP Helping Physicians Succeed in the Workplace

November 5, 2015
As a large medical group, we partner extensively with our state PHP to address various issues that arise. We strive to keep the concept of using the PHP pretty high profile.  To encourage self-referrals, we try to make sure our chiefs and physicians are comfortable recommending PHP as a resource. The state PHP brochures are included in our new physician orientation materials and we discuss the PHP in our leader training.  

Certainly if we have a physician who is identified as having a drug dependence problem we get the PHP involved immediately. Much more common though is the physician who is disruptive, burned out, or having difficulty keeping up with the workload. Our overwhelming interest is to support our physicians and improve our work environment. Improving the work environment for physicians can certainly include addressing the disruptive or low performing physician. It can also mean addressing specific beliefs or behaviors that physicians might have that are sabotaging their ability to be successful at work. Our state PHP can be helpful in determining if there is a substance abuse or mood disorder underlying such problems, but often there is not. The PHP can also help the physician understand the gravity of these disruptive behaviors, and can be there to help the physician deal with the potential for losing their job if they don't change their behavior.

Recognizing that our PHP offers its core physician health services at no cost to workplaces like ours, we proudly became a donor.  We encourage other workplaces and individuals to do so as well.


Restoring My Life and Profession

November 3, 2015
My recovery started with a five month stay at a professional health treatment program  in 1989. My disease had been all-consuming for 10 years prior and included asylums, suicide attempts, jails and loss of my medical license. I had been attending physician peer support meeting since 1985 usually fortified by lortab or tylox. On release from long-term treatment, I had a full year to establish a recovery lifestyle. I went to meetings, worked and reworked the steps, established healthy relationships and eventually got my license back. I worked in prisons and free clinics the first several years, a much-needed dose of humility for a vascular surgeon.

Eventually the PHP needed an associate director and I was asked to serve, much to my surprise.  Since 2004, I have found my place in medicine and in the universe. I work shoulder to shoulder with the state director, and participate in the miracles of life-transforming recovery for me and others. My wife runs a wonderfully functional family program in conjunction with our Caduceus meeting. I am grateful for the PHP process.   


A Life Worth Living

November 2, 2015
My story is typical of those who have an addiction. Like others, I fell farther and farther into the depths of lying to myself and to others - that I was able to control my ability to drink, but my episodes of drinking grew more and more out of control. I was perplexed as to why I was so smart and capable, yet I could not stop myself from drinking.  Things seemed hopeless. One incident in particular woke me up to the truth: I was an alcoholic, and I needed help right away.

I remembered a presentation by the PHP in my state and I called them for help. They immediately enrolled me in the program and oversaw my aftercare and counseling programs. I practiced their advised actions and I worked closely with them to learn self-discipline and surrender. In the first year, I began to recover from this deadly disease. My process of recovery is life-long, but I am confident that the tools gained from working with the PHP will help me stay on track. I am absolutely grateful to the PHP, to all those who participate in the program, and to the governing bodies that oversee it.

Because of the PHP, I now have a wonderful life for myself and for my family. My ability to practice in my chosen profession is restored and I often volunteer in my community. Most importantly, I respect myself again and I have a life worth living.


A Safety Net of Sobriety

November 1, 2015
I have been acquainted with PHP since 1996 when I agreed to a five year commitment. I graduated from the program in 2001 and remained clean and sober for about another three years. My sponsor moved away and I thought that I could 'go it alone' and 'the result was nil, until I let go entirely. I agreed to another contract with the PHP in 2006, but could not stay sober. I returned to treatment for three months at a professional health treatment program in 2008 and again entered into a five year contract with the PHP.

Those last five years with the PHP were quite remarkable for me and my family. This PHP was a real part of my 'safety net' of sobriety, both early on and even at the end of my commitment. Early on, even though I had had an amazing time, I still needed the kinship of other PHP members in my local area. Later on during that five year time span, my wife developed multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. Without a doubt in my mind, I know that this would have led me back into my addiction. Also during this time, a colleague overdosed and died. The PHP was there to support all of us in the area recovering community. The PHP has been blessed to have the stability and support of their staff.