PHP Participant Stories

“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.