There are a variety of impairments that commonly affect licensed physicians who practice medicine.

The first category is physical illnesses, especially those involving cognitive changes, which can occur from a variety of underlying conditions, such as cancer, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.  In addition, some treatments have cognitive side effects, for example, cognitive effects of chemotherapy.

Another major category is mental illness, such as depression, bipolar illness, psychotic disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and personality disorders, Other conditions can exist in the context of several diagnoses, such as impulsivity, aggression, poor conflict resolution skills, and other interpersonal difficulties.  These may make it difficult for coworkers or patients to interact with the physician.  Physicians with interpersonal difficulties are sometimes categorized as “the disruptive physician.”

Some impaired physicians have difficulties with boundary violations or other inappropriate contact and unprofessional behavior with patients or colleagues.

Other problematic behaviors that can result from physician impairment include: absenteeism, frequent accidents, poor attention to detail, poor communication by the physician or impairment of the physician’s understanding of others’ communication.  Some impaired physicians demonstrate inflexibility in response to emergency situations or social withdrawal.

In most states, physician health programs exist to receive complaints and investigate allegations.  These may or may not be substantiated or their cause may found to be ethical or criminal in nature instead of resulting from physical or mental impairment.

 About the author:

David Steinman, MD, DFAPA, is a board certified psychiatrist and a consultant and expert witness in matters relating to physician impairment.  More information is available at  He can be reached at