Reaching Out for Help as a Healthcare Professional Can Be Scary. Here’s How I Did It.
I will preface by saying that different people will enter this process for different reasons and in different ways. Some providers self-report their addiction, others are reported. This particular article will not tackle the ethics of whether or not one should self-report. Just asking yourself if you would like your parent’s or child’s physician practicing impaired should be enough. If you are like me, and believe you struggle with the disease of addiction, I hope to relieve any fear you may have and prepare you for the path of recovery as a healthcare professional.
A bit about me. I started my recovery as a medical student, so I had health insurance. Initially, I did not want to self-report due to fear of professional stigma, so I entered a rehab for non-healthcare professionals. Eventually, without any follow-up treatment or accountability, I experienced relapse and the return of consequences. I decided to pursue the proper channels in my effort to try out the recommended way, since my way wasn’t working.
As I mentioned, I self-reported, but whether one self-reports or is reported impaired, contact with the state’s professional monitoring program is the first step. Different healthcare professions have different governing bodies (e.g., Physicians’ Health Program, Nurses’ Alternative to Discipline Programs) separate from their state licensing boards, but the process should still be similar. A natural question is: who are these people and why should I trust them?
These professional monitoring programs serve an important role. There’s a finite number of healthcare professionals, and some of them will suffer from mental or physical disorders. Rather than write-off these people completely or immediately resort to discipline, they can be connected to a monitoring program. These programs will direct them on how to receive treatment, monitor and advocate on their behalf, in order for them to safely practice and for their patients and employers to maintain professional confidence.
Once you reach out to your respective program, they will give you a list of approved centers in order for you to be evaluated. It’s an ugly truth, but treatment is expensive. Prices vary, but you can expect to spend $2000-$5000 for 3-5 days of evaluation, with varying insurance coverage. Evaluation is made up of personality, intelligence, social, psychological, and other aspects. You may consider fudging your use in order to not appear too bad of a case, but since you won’t be the first one to have had that thought, they also have a number of rigorous screens and other precise tests that can let them reliably know what has been in your system. Take it from me, being honest and up-front is not only good for your recovery, it saves you headaches and will prevent you from seeming untrustworthy.
After a thorough evaluation, they will give you their recommendation, which is composed of both inpatient and outpatient portions. This is where the reality of the cost of treatment really hits hard. Your situation will be your own, and your center will likely have a business office that will help you make ends meet. I cannot say this enough, please invest in health insurance.
Once you complete your inpatient (or as much as you can afford to), you will then work on outpatient. Depending on your situation, you may be recommended to live in a sober-living house, intensive outpatient, general outpatient, or any combination tailored to your situation. An agreement contract with your state’s monitoring program will tell you all the details you will be responsible for, how long it will be for, and what you will need to do in order to return to work. In addition to outpatient treatment, you can expect regular check-ins, random substance testing, meeting attendance, and other monitoring. Yes, there are fees, with variable scholarship opportunities, but if you were like me, there was always enough money to fuel your addiction, so there is money for recovery.
Now that I’ve given you a glimpse of this process, you may feel overwhelmed. The old me would have read this and doubled-down on my hesitance to self-report my problem, and he would have continued to face the many consequences any addict can identify with. The current me comes with a message of hope. If you were like me, there was always time and money to use - never enough! If you are ready to live a life of success despite your addiction, if you are tired of your addiction borrowing and ultimately robbing you of your future, if you are ready to live the A.A. promises, now is the time! Do not let addiction steal your license, do not let addiction ruin your professional reputation, do not let addiction damage and disintegrate your connections and quality of life. Travel the journey of accountability and experience freedom and professional happiness!