I read with interest and recognition Joan Silverman’s Maine Observer column about her physician who did not seek treatment for his knee problem, but instead chose the approach of “deny and delay” (“The doctor is in — unless it’s his turn on the table,” Aug. 12).

It is an all-too-common problem, among all medical professionals, and one that has been at the center of my presidency of the Maine Medical Association. Many physicians do not even have a primary care physician who follows their health with an objective eye.

As physicians, we do understand that early identification and early treatment are best. But acting on that knowledge, given the hectic nature of our lives, our own dedication to serving others and our human unwillingness to admit to vulnerability, is almost out of our reach.

Yet Silverman makes two important points. We cannot serve others unless we take good care of ourselves, and, as physicians, we must strive to be models of the behavior we look for in our patients. I write this response to both the Joan Silvermans of the world and to my own colleagues.

Our patients should not be afraid to point out the need that we have to take care of ourselves, and we should thank them for doing so.

And we as physicians must undertake to be increasingly sensitive to “deny and delay,” both in ourselves and in our colleagues. That is truly one of the best ways to better health for all.

Physicians ignoring their own medical care is a serious problem, but it is even more tragic when the issue is substance abuse, mental illness or both (a “dual diagnosis”). Caregivers are more prone to substance abuse than the general population, and Maine has a high rate of abuse in both cohorts.

For more than 25 years, the Maine Medical Association has operated a confidential program to assist physicians in recovery. Now that program is available to many other caregivers as well, including nurses, dentists, pharmacists and physician assistants. A call to 623-9266, the program’s confidential line, may be the most important call you ever make.

Nancy M. Cummings, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon from Farmington who is president of the Maine Medical Association.