We think of you – think of us:Doctors’ Health Advisory Service NSW & ACT (Canberra Doctor - August 2017)

Garry Walter* and Sarah Foster*

What a fabulous article about doctors’ health by Dr Louise Stone (‘A GPs Open Letter to Young Doctors’) in last month’s issue of Canberra Doctor, imploring young doctors to have their own GP. That message resonates with a key piece of advice invariably given by the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service NSW & ACT (DHAS) to callers of our service: regardless of career stage, having one’s own GP is a plank for current and future health care needs.  


Further to Dr Stone’s article, it is worth reminding readers about the availability of the DHAS in the ACT. The DHAS was founded in 1982 to assist medical practitioners with personal and health problems. It is an independent and confidential service offering advice, support and, where required, referral pathways for doctors, medical students, their families and colleagues. Anecdotal research tells us that doctors often feel uncomfortable or unable to speak to their colleagues or supervisors when they are experiencing distress. The DHAS aims to provide a service where you can feel safe discussing any issues that may be impacting you either professionally or personally. The DHAS is also available should you feel concern for a colleague or family member and wish to discuss how best to manage that situation.


The DHAS is an advisory, not treatment service. How does it currently operate? The DHAS provides a 24-hour phone line, which is manned by an answering service. Calls are then returned by qualified DHAS staff (a psychiatrist and medical social worker) or affiliated health professional. Callers are not required to leave any identifying data, only a phone number to enable a return call to be made. Depending on the nature of the call and discussion with the caller, advice will be provided about “next steps”, if these are needed. The next steps may take the form of one or more of the following:


  • Subsequent discussion between the caller and the DHAS staff or associate.
  • Referral(s) may be suggested to a GP, psychiatrist, drug and alcohol specialist, other medical specialist, psychologist, or other allied health professional.
  • On a case-by-case basis, and with the caller’s permission, the above-named professionals may be contacted by the DHAS to facilitate the referral.
  • An offer is always made to the caller for ongoing contact and support with the DHAS.


Importantly, the DHAS is not an emergency service – the answering service advises callers to contact 000 in the case of an emergency. 


The DHAS’s role extends beyond providing phone advice. The DHAS provides education and training in the area of doctors’ and students’ health and wellbeing, and fosters relationships with key stakeholders. Indeed, in March 2017 the DHAS, in conjunction with the Medical Benevolent Association NSW, convened a fully subscribed round-table forum in Canberra, titled “Our Health and Wellbeing”. Doctors, medical students and others in attendance voiced concern about various matters occupying their minds and sometimes affecting their health: increasing competition in the profession, arduous work conditions, harassment, alcohol use, mandatory reporting, dealing with stress outside work, the “psychological” hurdle in accessing care for oneself and knowing how to proceed, were issues that were raised and discussed at the forum.


In view of these stressors, unsurprisingly the number of calls to DHAS from students and doctors in NSW and ACT with myriad health concerns has almost trebled in recent months.  If required, we trust that we can assist you, so do think of us – we welcome your call on 02 9437 6552 (website: The DHAS also plans to hold a “Caring for Colleagues” symposium in Canberra later this year, in which practical ways to respond to fellow doctors and students with health concerns will be examined.


Finally, the DHAS will be hosting the biennial Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference in Sydney from 14th-16th September 2017. The conference promises to be a fantastic opportunity to focus on our health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of our colleagues – we warmly welcome you to join us. For further information, visit


*Professor Garry Walter AM, MB BS, BMedSc, PhD, FRANZCP, Medical Director, Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW & ACT)

*Sarah Foster BAppSc, BSW, MSW (Health), Medical Social Worker, Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW & ACT)

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