57. CASE: Caregiver Stress

Dr. Morrison has been the only physician in his small community of 1,500 people for about 15 years and is known as the “Town Doc.” When he first moved to town, he quickly became friends with many people and involved in the community. However, the longer he practiced, the more awkward his social life became.

He helped coach the baseball team for several years. But then he treated one of the boys on the team for chlamydia and the boy stopped coming to practice. Dr. Morrison didn’t sign up to coach the following year. He began to turn down social invitations, as more friends became patients. Eventually he began to feel burdened and overworked but unable to decrease his workload. He attended to numerous horrific farm and motor vehicle accidents, often as the only provider for multiple patients, resulting in increasing mental trauma and distress.

He felt indebted to the community but also began to feel resentful. Where he once took pride in the fact that people looked to him for support, he began to feel overwhelmed and useless. He recognized that he was depressed but had no idea where to turn for help. His patients began to notice that he seemed tired and irritable. At the nearby critical access hospital, where Dr. Morrison is affiliated, the administrators were increasingly concerned about his ability to practice and feared he might even resign.

[From Rural Health Ethics: A Manual for Trainers. William Nelson & Karen Schifferdecker. https://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/cfm/resources/ethics/%5D

  • What, if anything, should the administrators say or do?
  • What steps can rural health care providers take to avoid isolation and burnout?
  • What steps can rural health administrators and community leaders take to avoid isolation and burnout among their health care providers?
  • What resources could Dr. Morrison access to assist in this situation?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Resource allocation
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional boundaries
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Duty to provide care
  • Moral distress among health care providers
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities

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