We are delighted to present our Winter-Spring 2021 edition of Medicine and Meaning – as in previous editions we present you with fantastic creative works from Team UAMS in fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and images/photography.
In this issue, Conversations @ UAMS features an interview with Dr. Drobena in which she discusses her path to academic success at UAMS and ACH. The interview is extraordinary for her openness and candor in discussing one of the most difficult issues for anyone: mental illness. Yet in this interview she speaks openly and freely on how she dealt with recurrent bouts of anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome, and how she used mental health resources at UAMS and elsewhere.
Mental illness is common in doctors, but rarely disclosed. Doctors rarely talk about their weaknesses or illnesses for fear of censure by colleagues, peers, referring physicians, patients, family members and even friends. They fear losing their profession, their licenses, their privileges to practice, their patient relationships, their prestige.
Yet mental illness is common in physicians and is the single most common cause of disability among doctors and others. Mental illness is an exacerbating factor in burnout, which affects approximately 50% of health care workers, and is an underlying cause for suicide which is more common in doctors than in almost any other profession. The tragedy in non-disclosure is the inability to get help, which is needed, effective, and potentially life-saving.
Fear of disclosing a mental health illness is mostly unfounded. Any prejudicial action as a result of disclosure is against the law and against the Americans with Disability Act. Almost every medical school and state licensing board in the country have eliminated any punitive action for mental illness. UAMS has worked hard to eliminate any prejudice against physicians and others needing mental health services. Services are freely available, are absolutely confidential, and carry no potential harm. UAMS has also worked with the Arkansas licensing board to ensure that mental health concerns which do not impair medical practice remain undisclosed, and that those that are disclosed are considered confidential and do not necessarily result in any penalty.
Structural changes are good but not sufficient. A change in culture is needed where mental illness is considered a treatable health issue and not a sign of weakness or shame; where afflicted people can speak about their condition without fear of reprisal and where medical services help not hurt. Change will come when physicians can openly talk about mental illness as they do about physical health, without worrying about retribution.
Towards this goal, Dr. Drobena has done a great service in modeling how mental health issues can be disclosed, can be treated, and can be associated with an outstanding career. In that regard, the editors of this journal applaud her for her honesty and openness and commit to working to make UAMS a safe atmosphere for everyone who works here.
Also, in this issue are three winners of the Mehta Creative Writing Award: one story and two poems. The 2020 contest was the first contest in this series and serves to stimulate writing among health care professionals. More than 70 submissions were received and a panel of experts, led by Dr. Micah Hester, chose the winning selections. These selections were read in part of the Inaugural Awards Celebration on April 1, 2021. The next competition will be announced in early summer and the next awards celebration will be in April 2022, hopefully as a face-to-face celebration of the arts in medicine. If any reader is interested in establishing a similar award, please contact JoAnne Fureigh at 501-773-9473.
Finally, in this issue we announce several updates in the Editorial Board. Dr. Paulette Mehta will now share responsibilities with Dr. Erick Messias as Co-Editor-in-Chief and Metu Osele will serve as Fiction Editor.
We hope you enjoy this beautiful art and if you are interested in submitting your work, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paulette Mehta, M.D., and Erick Messias, M.D., Ph.D., MPH