Spotlight on the Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health

Vandy&SkylineThe Vanderbilt Center for Professional Health (“CPH”) was established in 1998 to provide education and training to physicians and other healthcare professionals. Last week the co-directors of CPH, Dr. Charlene Dewey and Mr. William Swiggart, took a few moments out of their day to explain the purpose and process behind the work they do at the Center for Professional Health.

What the Center for Professional Health Offers for Health Care Providers

One of the main educational offerings of CPH is its three-day Continuing Medical Education courses on Maintaining Proper Boundaries, Prescribing Controlled Drugs, and a Program for Distressed Physicians. Each course is offered at least four times a year with the most highly attended course, Prescribing Controlled Drugs, offered seven times throughout the year.

Physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners from around the country attend all three courses. Some of these individuals attend on their own initiative, while others attend as part of a Consent Order or Final Order issued by their state’s Board of Medical Examiners. Attendees of the Distressed Physicians course are often referred by their hospital board or employer.

“We wanted to give the Board[s] of Medical Examiners an option between revoking someone’s license and letting them continue to practice,” stated Mr. Swiggart, who has been involved in the practice of psychotherapy for forty years. “Becoming a physician is an enormous investment,” added Dr. Dewey, who is also a faculty member at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We want to allow physicians to continue in their profession for as long as possible.”

How CPH Accomplishes Teaching and Healing for Physicians

In order to accomplish this goal, the Center for Professional Health begins by putting their course attendees at ease in a comfortable group-learning environment. Mr. Swiggart stated that when CPH began its Prescribing Controlled Substances course, the theory was that physicians who overprescribed were likely addicts as well. However, as it turns out, the majority of physicians who were disciplined for overprescribing were usually conflict avoidance individuals, often in isolated communities, rather than addicts.

By bringing these individuals together with others who have had similar difficulties, CPH is able to first impress upon these doctors that they are not alone. “The relief in the room is palpable,” states Mr. Swiggart. Next, the courses use the Socratic method to deal with the shame and guilt that the physicians are experiencing as a result of their licensure discipline or other legal action. The courses then move into a skills based approach whereby physicians are taught various tools and techniques to help them avoid their prior behavior.

“After a course, we usually follow up with the class one to two times throughout the next year,” stated Dr. Dewey. “The groups almost become like families—they will email the rest of the class about job updates, weddings, whatever else big is going on in their life.” “I’m not sure if the doctors who come to our courses are any different than the doctors who don’t have complaints against them,” mused Mr. Swiggart.

Physicians who go through a disciplinary proceeding have to realize that they must go through a process to heal and change, stated Dr. Dewey. “The most important part to me is that we can keep people in their careers.”

Programs like those offered by the Center for Professional Health can make a difference in a physician’s ability to continue practicing medicine, as well as their ability to effectively treat and care for their patients. For physicians facing licensure discipline, educational options such as those at CPH can provide a welcome alternative to revocation and other harsh discipline against his or her medical license.