The Physician Suicide Pandemic

Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Physician Suicide Pandemic

In case you had any doubt that there is a physician suicide pandemic, read Dr. Eric Levi’s latest blog post, The Dark Side of Doctoring. Eric is an ENT surgeon in Australia.  This post starts with a letter from the wife of a gastroenterologist in Brisbane who took his life last week.

This eloquent letter brings home the reality of this tragic loss for his wife, his children, his patients, and the medical community.  It also describes the signs leading up to the event, an event that even those closest to him thought impossible.

We know the statistics:

  • 12% of male physicians, and 20% of female physicians suffer from depression, these are likely under-reported
  • in the USA there are 400 physician suicides a year, the equivalent of losing two medical school classes each year.
  • In medical students the rates are higher – 27% with depression, 11%% with suicidal ideation

Statistics don’t tell the whole story of the physician suicide pandemic

If you haven’t checked out Eric’s post yet, go now.  I’ll wait.

Not only does he write with realism, self-revelation, and compassion, he makes this tangible.  Perhaps more compelling are the number of responses that the posting received in a mere 48 hours – 56 in total.  Many of these commenters shared their stories from around the globe of their experiences as medical students, residents, fellows, and practicing physicians.  Some came from spouses of physicians who are deeply concerned.

I try to make my blog postings a call to action.  We need to have everyone in healthcare engaged in:

  • supporting those with burnout,
  • participating in wellness activities to ensure resilience, and
  • redesigning physicians’ jobs to eliminate the drivers of burnout.

Many other blogs focus on the first two, so I try to focus on fixing the workplace. There is so much to do in all three areas that we cannot be complacent.

What will it take to activate all the stakeholders in our health care system? I’ve tried appealing to:

  • the potential to eliminate physicians’ frustrations and return joy to patient care,
  • the importance of reducing burnout to improve quality,
  • the need to remove barriers to efficient workflow to improve financial performance and reduce the cost of care,
  • and the impact of burnout on physicians’ families and friends.

It can’t just be one set of stakeholders involved.  In an ideal world all stakeholders would be involved.  At a bare minimum we need doctors and health care administrators involved, and partnering effectively to take this on.

What do you think it will take to activate those who are have such high stakes in physician burnout?

Is there a more effective way to make the case?

Why isn’t a physician suicide pandemic enough of an issue to see real action?

I’d love to hear from you.