Psychological first aid. That's the mission of a new program within the Medical Society of the State of New York.
It's called "Peer to Peer" and it's a way for doctors to counsel each other, especially as they try to manage the exhaustion and trauma brought on by COVID-19.
Dr. Frank Dowling said the medical profession has been stressful from its onset.
“You can find journal articles from 1850 talking about docs and depressions alcohol and suicide," Dowling said.
Initiating the "Peer to Peer" program has been a career goal of his, a bucket list item.
“Because we’re professionals, we expect ourselves to take all this in and, incorrectly in my view, not feel it and we have a professional demeanor,” Dowling said.
Dr. Dowling says doctors are under immense pressure to not show the stress they take on.
“Could you imagine a cardiac surgeon working on someone you love, bringing them to the emergency room saying 'OMG, I have a life in my hands?' So it gets pushed aside in its own natural way where people know how to do it and we do what we’ve got to do,” Dowling said.
Add in insurance headaches, trauma, and then: 2020. And COVID-19. New York's medical system is still dealing with the stress of the pandemic.
“Those stressors don’t stop because we have a pandemic, the pandemic adds to the burden of stressors that already exists,” Dowling said.
Dr. Charles Rothberg chairs the Medical Society, State of New York's Committee on Physician Wellness and Resiliency. They've been working on the "Peer to Peer" program because physician burnout is not new. COVID-19 hit, and they knew it needed to get off the ground.
“The program is essentially for people that are engaged in a stressful profession that from time to time find that their coping mechanisms are exceeded by the stressors they experience,” said Rothberg.
There's been doctor suicides, addiction and financial problems, real life struggles, exasperated by the coronavirus. For doctors, there's often a stigma associated with the stress.
“There was concern that physicians would not want to consult a peer for fear that they would be reported or trigger an obligation of a colleague to do the reporting,” Rothberg said.
Peers, he says, should provide safety, comedy, a connection - and basic support.
“A physician should know that they are doing a good job even if sometimes unexpected outcomes occur for example,” Rothberg said.
Before they launched "Peer to Peer", they were working on ways to prevent and reduce doctor burnout. Ironically, that program was halted because of COVID-19. Which, then of course, made the burnout even worse.
"Peer to Peer" offers a number to call- 1-844-P2P-PEER and an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, to contact, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not for treatment, but casual conversation, to talk it out with someone who's going through the exact same thing.
“Maybe to just share with a peer that this happened to me also and here’s how I responded to it a lot of the problems that people have are common to each other,” Rothberg said.
Or, as Dr. Dowling puts it, head over to the zoom diner, meet a friend and take a load off.
“I want the docs that we help in the peer to peer to get well, to get better, to love life again and love why they went into medicine," said Dowling.