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Medical board adopts plan to develop physician health program aligned with best practices

June 11, 2024


The Medical Board of California will work with stakeholders to develop a physician health program that aligns with national best practices, a move advocated for by the California Medical Association (CMA) to better support physicians facing mental health challenges, burnout and substance abuse.  

The medical board had entered into the rulemaking process to adopt regulations to establish a physician health program, based on legislation passed in 2016. Although CMA sponsored the legislation, which was significantly amended during legislative deliberations, since its passage we have experienced a global pandemic that has had a profound impact on physicians, making it clear that broader support and resources are needed so physicians can continue to meet the health care needs of all Californians.  

Recently, CMA urged the medical board to lend its support to building a physician health program modeled on successful programs across the country that have been shown to improve the lives of physicians and protect patients. 

At the board’s May 24 meeting, CMA President-Elect Shannon Udovic-Constant, M.D., testified about how such a program would encourage physicians to refer themselves or their peers to the program and give them the assurance that doing so would not jeopardize their careers.  

“This is an issue for both physicians and patients. California is often on the cutting edge of issues, and yet, in this one we lag behind,” said Dr. Udovic-Constant. “CMA asks that the board position itself to welcome and engage in developing a physician health program that meets national best practices. In doing so, the Medical Board of California will maximize its ability to protect the public by creating a supportive environment for physicians to seek help before mental or behavioral health issues get to the point that they create impairment.”   

After hearing Dr. Udovic-Constant’s testimony, as well as presentations from Christopher Bundy, M.D., and Paul Earley, M.D., the medical directors of physician health programs in Washington and Georgia, respectively, the board withdrew previously proposed regulations from the rulemaking process and instructed board staff to work with stakeholders to develop a legislative proposal that aligns with best practices.  

"I am passionate about our upcoming work to develop a physician health and wellness program that will support our licensees with mental health challenges, including substance use disorders," said Kristina D. Lawson, who was elected as the new president of the medical board at the May 24 meeting. 

CMA stands ready to work with the medical board and other stakeholders for next steps in developing the program.  

 

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