Practitioner impairment occurs when a physical, mental or substance-related disorder interferes with his or her ability to engage in professional activities competently and safely. The Health Professions Council of South Africa makes reporting of impaired colleagues and students mandatory. The ethical dilemma faced by many colleagues on the issue of reporting an impaired practitioner is that of having to choose between protecting the privacy of the practitioner and the safety of patients. However, medicine as a profession with an acknowledged fiduciary relationship has a clear responsibility to assure the public, and all patients, that its practitioners and institutions are trustworthy. An awareness of and sensitivity to physician vulnerability and early detection and prevention of impairment is important.