23 Danger Signs Your Healthcare Provider May Be Impaired

Impairment in the workplace is real, especially in healthcare. Know these warning signs and what to do about them.

Impairment in the workplace is real but not always apparent. Signs will often be hidden, obscured or explained away until the latter stages of an addiction.

Impairment in the workplace is real but not always apparent. Signs will often be hidden, obscured or explained away until the latter stages of an addiction.

It was late, around midnight when the internist stumbled into the emergency department, the one I had spoken with less than an hour earlier concerning a patient who had to be admitted to the hospital. He sounded okay over the telephone, perhaps a little sleepy, something I felt was probably due to the late night call.

I was a third year family practice resident moonlighting in ED’s for extra income and for the experience. That night, for the first time in my practice career, I saw with crystal clarity the reality of impairment in the workplace involving a colleague.

He was stumbling, weaving and slurring his words. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot. He smelled of alcohol as he shuffled past me on his way to examine the patient I had called him to admit. More about him in a moment.

There was a second reality I discovered that evening, one of workplace complacency with such issues. I asked a nearby nurse if she had seen what I described. She chuckled and said, “Oh, he comes in like that all of the time.” Not only are there impaired individuals within any system, sometimes the systems are sick too. 

Impairment in the workplace due to drugs or alcohol is not always as readily apparent, as it was with the internist. Signs will often be hidden, obscured or explained away until the latter stages of an addiction. Too often, people wait for overt signs of impairment or until there is a crisis which can no longer be ignored. 

There are tale-tale signs which can indicate an impairment issue in the workplace, signs which should never be ignored or explained away without further scrutiny or inquiry. Familiarize yourself with these 23 common signs and symptoms of healthcare provider impairment.