What Went Wrong?

“The son of a prominent Boston doctor, David Arndt was on his way to becoming a leading surgeon in his own right when a bizarre blunder interrupted his climb: He left his patient on the operating table so he could cash his paycheck. A series of arrests followed, exposing a life of arrogance, betrayal, and wasted promise, leaving only one question left to answer: What Went Wrong?” Less interesting for me than the (actually prosaic) story of Dr. David Arndt’s downfall is the stab at placing it in this context:

“This is not a great time to be a doctor. More than 40 percent of physicians surveyed in 2001 said they wouldn’t go into medicine if they had to do it over again. With increased productivity demands and a tightening financial squeeze, doctors are under tremendous stress, and more of them are turning to drugs and alcohol for relief. An estimated 8 to 14 percent of physicians have a substance abuse problem. In Massachusetts, surgeons are among the most affected.

Fromson ticks off the warning signs: verbally abusive behavior, tardiness, unexcused absences, inappropriate sexual behavior. The signs of strain tend to come first in a doctor’s personal life. ‘When things happen at the workplace,’ he says, ‘usually they have been going on for a long time.’ Even then, he says, the problem may not be confronted, because most doctors are self-employed and only loosely supervised, and hospital management is often hesitant to call doctors on questionable behavior for fear that they will take their patient base to a hospital across town.

All of this means a doctor’s substance abuse problem can go unchecked and then trigger a downward spiral.” —Boston Globe Magazine