Suicide in Medical Trainees: Lack of Data Hurts Prevention

Marcia Frellick


August 22, 2019

Barriers to Collecting Key Information

Even if a consensus can be reached about who should collect or hold this data, the challenges faced by researchers are numerous, from privacy concerns and worries about copycat tragedies to fears that a school's suicide rate could be used to compare it against other institutions.

Susan Skochelak, MD, MPH, vice president of medical education for the AMA, told Medscape that the bottom line is, "It's very difficult to get the data." Students' data are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That covers all records that schools or education agencies maintain about students. Their health information is also obviously protected by HIPAA.

Without an obvious path to acquire data, the alternatives are not clear. "Voluntary reporting is always an option, but that's going to be underreporting," Skochelak said. Data gathering "certainly has to be one of the first steps," she noted. "We don't know enough about what's going on to make accurate interventions." She pointed out that the report adopted at the AMA's House of Delegates meeting also called for study of risk factors and depression. "We're trying to get at the earlier level, not just at the endpoint where you can't do anything."

Even if nationwide data can be comprehensively assembled, comparing medical school data is further complicated by the different cultures within each medical school, state, and country, as well societal shifts over time. "What we need are data from the same time period, and not just the same external culture, but the same medical school culture, so they are roughly in the same curriculum, facing the same pressures." Blacker said.


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