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Chemical Dependency Treatment Outcomes of Residents in Anesthesiology: Results of a Survey

Collins, Gregory B. MD; McAllister, Mark S. MD; Jensen, Mark DO; Gooden, Timothy A. MD

doi: 10.1213/01.ANE.0000180837.78169.04
Economics, Education, and Health Systems Research: Research Report

Substance abuse is a potentially lethal occupational hazard confronting anesthesiology residents. We present the results of a survey sent to all United States anesthesiology training programs regarding experience with and outcomes of chemically dependent residents from 1991 to 2001. The response rate was 66%. Eighty percent reported experience with impaired residents and 19% reported at least one pretreatment fatality. Despite this familiarity, few programs required pre-employment drug testing or used substance abuse screening tools during interviews. The majority of impaired residents attempted reentry into anesthesiology after treatment. Only 46% of these were successful in completion of anesthesiology residency. Eventually, 40% of residents who underwent treatment and returned to medical training entered another specialty. The mortality rate for the remaining anesthesiology residents was 9%. Long-term outcome was reported for 93% of all treated residents. Of these, 56% were successful in some specialty of medicine at the end of the survey period. We hypothesize that specialty change afforded substantial improvement in the overall success rate and avoided significant mortality. Redirection of rehabilitated residents into lower-risk specialties may allow a larger number to achieve successful medical careers.

IMPLICATIONS: Impairment among anesthesiology residents is common. Less than half of the rehabilitated residents returning to anesthesia successfully completed training and a significant proportion died as judged by this nationwide survey. Improvement in overall outcome can be achieved through redirection of these individuals into lower risk specialties.

Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation/P48, Cleveland, Ohio

Accepted for publication May 12, 2005.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Gregory B. Collins, MD, Section Head, Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation/P48, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44195. Address e-mail to

© 2005 International Anesthesia Research Society