Mental health issues affecting doctors working in intensive care units

Dr Dianne Dennis

Lessons learned following an episode of intensive care unit crisis: what experienced Intensivists can teach their peers

Dr Dianne Dennis from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital was awarded a 2018 Cockell Research Collaboration Award, in collaboration with Hadassah University Hospital, Israel, and Austin Hospital, Australia.

Cockell Research Collaboration Award

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital



Dr Dennis is a Senior Physiotherapist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Simulation Co-Lead in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin University.

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the increasing prevalence of mental health issues among doctors, particularly in the highly complex area of intensive care medicine. The primary aim of this study was to explore the psychological responses of senior doctors who were experienced in the intensive care unit (ICU) setting and how they mitigated these reactions on both a personal and professional level.

Between October and December 2018, the investigators interviewed 19 Intensivists in four ICUs in three hospitals across two countries. Over 20 hours of interviews were transcribed, and data is currently undergoing qualitative analysis. Preliminary findings indicate that a range of factors contribute to the challenges of working as a doctor in the ICU including repeated exposure to stressful situations, the unpredictability of the environment and the inevitability of errors. A variety of personal and professional attributes were described, along with numerous coping strategies that appeared to align with longevity of positive mental health outcomes in this population. The early outcomes from this study were presented at a key international simulation conference in January 2019.

Several groups have indicated their interest in future collaboration around extending data collection for the project as well as developing and piloting simulation-based activities; including Dr Steve Costa, Emergency Physician from Ballarat Base Hospital, Victoria, and Nick Argall, Founder and CEO of Hybrid Simulations, Victoria. The International Network for Simulation-based Paediatric Innovation, Research and Education (INSPIRE) group has also expressed interest in the project, as did the President of the Society for Simulation in Europe (SESAM) to involve European and United Kingdom sites.

The findings from this project will improve the understanding of mental health issues in doctors working in intensive care medicine.

Dr Diane Dennis presenting the project and preliminary data to the International Network for Simulation-based Paediatric Innovation, Research and Education (INSPIRE) at the International Meeting of Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH) in Texas, USA.