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Distressed doctors: a narrative and historical study of work-related mental discomfort among practising physicians
  1. Jonatan E G Wistrand
  1. Lund University, Medical Faculty, History of Medicine, Lund, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jonatan E G Wistrand, Lund University, Medical Faculty, History of Medicine, Jan Waldenströms gata 15, Malmö 205 02, Sweden; jonatan.wistrand{at}


This article explores the complexity of mental distress among physicians, as portrayed in two literary narratives: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (1967) and Pia Dellson’s Väggen: En utbränd psykiaters noteringar (2015, ‘The Wall: Notes by a Burnt-Out Psychiatrist’). Departing from a historical understanding of medical practice, the article seeks to discuss whether some of the noted similarities and differences in the two narratives could be related to changes appearing over time in the role model of the medical encounter. As the two narratives provide illustrative descriptions of the difficulties experienced by doctors suffering from mental discomfort, they also call for a greater awareness among medical practitioners of the sociological terms of doctoring. Practising a person-centred, rather than patient-centred, care might be part of such awareness and is discussed as a possible protective strategy for physicians at risk of work-related mental distress.

  • physician narratives
  • literature and medicine
  • mental health care
  • cultural history
  • sociology

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  • Collaborators Peter M Nilsson; Anders Palm.

  • Contributors I am the sole author of this article.

  • Funding This work was supported by ‘Greta och Johan Kocks stiftelse’.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement There are no data in this work.