Resident Suicide: A Tragedy, and What Can Help?


September 19, 2018

In This Article

What Needs to Change?

Wible notes that it's unacceptable and dangerous for residents to work 80 hours a week or more; they're sleep-deprived, unable to function, and drained of the physical and psychological resources needed to fight back or sustain themselves.

Counseling and psychological help is imperative too, says Wible.

"When there's a school shooting, what happens afterward?" she asks. "We bring in counselors for the survivors and the other students. We have a memorial ceremony. We honor their memory."

By contrast, she says, when resident suicide occurs, hospitals typically stay silent. They don't take action to address what happened, and often there are no counseling services made available for the resident's friends or colleagues to help deal with the loss.

A small number of medical schools have started to make it easier for students and residents to get needed help, according to Dietl. "Some medical schools have increased the number of anonymous counselors who are available to students," said Dietl. "The counseling centers are located away from campus so that no one can see students going to them, and students can remain anonymous when getting help."

Have Lunch or Coffee With a Colleague

Robyn Alley-Hay, MD, a physician coach based in Dallas, Texas, who attended the screening, said she herself was suicidal at one point in her education.

Residents and physicians tend to keep their suffering to themselves, which ultimately exacerbates the problem, says Alley-Hay.

"Connections with colleagues could help save their lives," says Alley-Hay. "When we are in our own heads, our thoughts get distorted. We think we are the only ones going through this. But when you find other physicians going through a similar experience, it's very helpful."

She added, "Having [people] to talk to who can say, 'We get that. We understand' is helpful. The connection is the first, most important step, even though it's so hard to do," says Alley-Hay. "Put up your hand and say that you need help. I have heard physicians look at this issue and say, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' And what saved them? Someone said to them, 'Let's have lunch, let's have coffee.' Or they asked someone for lunch or coffee and to talk. Lunch saved them."

While coffee or lunch doesn't change the underlying problems of pressure and sleep deprivation, having that interaction can be a help to those who are struggling.

Each screening of Do No Harm: Exposing the Hippocratic Hoax has garnered heartfelt support from medical residents and others within the community.

As Wible points out, "We shouldn't just address the problem by trying to make doctors more resilient. That's like making the physician the cause of the problem, implying that he or she is not resilient enough."

Regarding the difference between the cause of a problem and its cure, a physician in an article I once read said, "Just because aspirin may help cure a headache, that doesn't mean the headache was caused due to lack of aspirin."

(Disclaimer: The author has no financial or any other vested interest in the film Do No Harm: Exposing the Hippocratic Hoax).


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