Massachusetts Medical Society: Episode 17: Looking for Relief in the Wrong Places

Episode 17: Looking for Relief in the Wrong Places

Looking for Relief in the Wrong Places

Course Overview

Dr. Steve Adelman, founder of MedPEP and director of the physician health program in Massachusetts, has a frank discussion with Marie and Les about physicians’ use of addictive substances like alcohol and marijuana. In this era of stress, burnout, and medical “battle fatigue,” doctors may be especially susceptible to numbing themselves with substances that have the potential to impede their performance. Steve’s perspective is that physicians are safety-sensitive professionals who are responsible for the health of the public. Consequently, they have an ethical obligation to stay above reproach by avoiding problematic use of psychoactive substances. Physicians with a history of problematic substance use should abstain; others should consider practices like “clean margin drinking,” a minimalistic approach that is fleshed out with specifics. Marie acknowledges that sometimes physicians cross the line in the name of celebration or stress relief. Steve points out that physicians are at risk because they have easy access to controlled substances and may also resist seeking professional help despite needing it. Marie and Steve discuss a specific case involving a patient whose therapist appeared impaired during a psychotherapy session. A guiding principle is that the safety of the public should never be compromised. Les asks Steve to comment on the use of marijuana by physicians. Steve focuses on the downside, advising licensed health professionals to avoid marijuana altogether. He links this MedPEP episode to earlier podcasts by suggesting that health professionals should avoid misusing substances; instead, we should focus on improving our self-care with diet, exercise, meditation, and better work/life balance, all of which may counter personal and professional burnout, and preserve our careers.  

Learning Objectives

  • Help physicians evaluate the choices they make to manage stress and diminish fatigue, considering how different decisions may impact personal well-being, patient care, and safety.
  • Review the need for improved self-care and for avoiding substance misuse.


Steve Adelman, MD 
I’m the director of Physician Health Services, Inc. (PHS), the organization that launched and sponsors this MedPEP podcast series. PHS, a subsidiary of the Massachusetts Medical Society, is a nonprofit that provides assessment, triage, and support services to physicians and medical students with challenges such as addiction, mental illness, and burnout. My view of burnout is that it represents a significant, widespread occupational health crisis for health care professionals. In order to take excellent care of other people, we caretakers need to be thriving ourselves. For that to occur, we need to improve our self-care, increase our personal effectiveness, and redouble our efforts to institute necessary local and system-wide changes. I created MedPEP in the hope of sharing helpful wisdom and expertise with a wide audience of health professionals.

I’m a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and I’m currently a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. I’m an experienced addiction psychiatrist. As a MedPEP guest expert I focus on the hazards of substance misuse.

The work I have done assisting physician colleagues has deepened my interest in professional coaching for practicing health professionals. Many of our MedPEP experts are based here in Massachusetts, where we are beginning to see the emergence of a culture of coaching in our large and sophisticated health care system.

Course Fees

Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) Member: Free       
Non-MMS Member: Free       
Allied Health Professionals: Free



CME Credit

1.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™

Accreditation Statement

This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of the Massachusetts Medical Society and Physician Health Services, Inc. The Massachusetts Medical Society is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians. 

AMA Credit Designation Statement

The Massachusetts Medical Society designates this enduring material for a maximum of 1.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™.  Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

This activity meets the criteria for the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine for risk management study.

National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
Physician Assistants may claim a maximum of 1.00 Category 1 credit for completing this activity. NCCPA accepts AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ from organizations accredited by ACCME or a recognized state medical society.

Exam/Assessment: Please respond to the reflective statement at the end of the course to receive AMA PRA Category 1 Credits.

 MOC Approval Statement
Through the American Board of Medical Specialties ("ABMS") ongoing commitment to increase access to practice relevant Maintenance of Certification ("MOC") Activities through the ABMS Continuing Certification Directory , this activity  has met the requirements as an MOC Part II CME Activity (apply toward general CME requirement) for the following ABMS Member Boards:

Allergy and Immunology
Family Medicine
Medical Genetics and Genomics
Nuclear Medicine
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Plastic Surgery
Preventive Medicine
Psychiatry & Neurology
Thoracic Surgery

Activity Term

Original Release Date: January 24, 2019        
Review Date: N/A     
Termination Date: January 24, 2021

System Requirements

Windows, XP, Vista, 7, 8  
Mac OSX 10.6 higher

Most modern browsers including:   
Firefox 18.0+  
Chrome 26+  
Safari 5+  
Flash player is required for some Online CME courses.
iOS devices beginning with OS version 5 or higher (includes, iPhone, iPad and iTouch devices)  
Android devices including tablets and phones.  
Windows RT and tablets on Windows 8 are also supported. 


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