Wayne Sotile and his wife, Mary, make it their job to speak the all-too-often-unspoken truth that despite being trained to keep their emotions in check, physicians can be hurt deeply, lose efficacy and sometimes become a danger to their organizations and patients after they've been sued for medical malpractice.
"We do over 100 presentations a year talking about these kinds of issues that nobody likes to talk about," Sotile said in an interview with Modern Physician.
Sotile holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of South Carolina. He and his wife are directors of Sotile Psychological Associates, a counseling practice in Winston-Salem, N.C., and co-authors of The Resilient Physician: Effective Emotional Management for Doctors and Their Medical Organizations.
"What nobody talks about is the soul-level damage that comes to physicians when they get sued," Sotile said.
"Postlitigation Syndrome: The Special Stress" is a subsection in one of the book's chapters that explains how the pain of a malpractice suit is particularly damaging because, from medical school onward, the fear of making a mistake is one of the most prevalent sources of stress for all physicians.
When a mistake occurs, it is not just the physician who suffers, according to Sotile.
"It affects their morale, their resilience and their family lives," he writes. The psychological pain of a malpractice case is "significantly compounded when medical colleagues fail to offer open support to the accused and their families. Silence or tacit or blatant blame from one's peers is the opposite of what these families most need in order to cope well."
Sotile offers four ways physician leaders can support a colleague after the filing of a medical malpractice suit: