Medical School May Just Kill You

Within the first week of May 2018, NYU medical school lost two medical students to suicide. Less than a month later, a third student claimed her own life. According to the AMSA(American Medical Student Association), “Medical students are three times as likely to commit suicide than the rest of the general population in their age range.” Bearing in mind that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults. Why aren’t we hearing about this more often? Why is no one talking about the lost of some of the best and the brightest? Better yet, isn’t anyone doing anything to prevent this?

When preparing for your medical career, you’re warned how difficult it will be. You’re told that you lose immense amounts of sleep, lose your social life, and be put through the most difficult times in your life. No one tells you that you may not make it out alive. No one warns you the toll that the chronic burnout in conjunction with the stigma that “depression is a weakness” may end your life. No one tells you that ultimately the way the institution is designed means it’ll break you to your very core. No one reminds you that while you’re learning to tend to others, you must tend to yourself. More harrowing yet, just because you make it out of medical school does not mean you’re at any less of a risk. In an article from Refinery29, Dr. Pamela Wible states, “Schools and hospitals are not adequately addressing the system that is leading so many bright and promising people to die by suicide, but are instead focused on superficial remedies.” The same doctor states in another article written by the Washington Post that since 2013 she has documented 757 physician suicides. This is a legitimate health crisis and no one is talking about it.

 So what is going on? Furthermore, what can be done to help? Dr. Wible states that “Guilt, bullying, exhaustion are big factors.” Guilt over the loss of a patient. Bullying from executives, employers, and lawyers. Exhaustion from eighty-hour weeks. Not even counting all of the pressures from factors outside of work. She goes on to state that “happy doctors” commit suicide as well. The doctors who are joking with patients or doctors who seem jolly to their own teams may be deeply suffering inside -- according to Wible, “Doctors are masters of disguise.” In regards to what we do, we firstly need to recognize that this is a legitimate problem and a large one at that. Beyond that we need to provide doctors with confidential counseling --counseling that doesn’t affect their licensing. We need to recognize that they too are human and constantly face issues of their own both in and out of work. At the end of the day, this level of stress and depression needs to be destigmatized and a clear, secure line of help needs to be available.

So just remember next time you visit a doctor to tell them how important they are and to treat them kindly, because you may just save their life.

Image Sources: 1, 2