On May 11, 2016, we lost another bright, young soul to suicide. Sean Petro was in his third year at the USC Keck School of Medicine and is the third tragedy at his school in the last two years.
On April 23, 2015, we lost Kevin Dietl to suicide just weeks before he was to graduate medical school. Kevin’s parents were so excited to attend their son’s graduation. Instead, they attended his funeral. It’s estimated that up to 150 U.S. medical students die by suicide yearly. What’s being done to prevent the next suicide? How many more students must die?
Medical student and physician suicide is an epidemic. It is estimated that 400 doctors die by suicide in the United States each year. That’s the equivalent of an entire medical school gone! The second leading cause of death among medical students is suicide — a well-known occupational hazard in medicine. Yet no medical organization is tracking these suicides. Why? And how can we solve a problem when it’s hidden from us?
The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) claim to improve the health care of all through serving the academic medicine community and advancing the quality of physician education. How can this be achieved while ignoring our own epidemic of medical student and physician suicide?
The fact is we enter medicine with our mental health on par with or better than our peers. Medical training is dehumanizing. Fear-based teaching methods prevail. Public humiliation, bullying, and sleep deprivation are commonplace. Those who seek help risk punishment and loss of their careers. Mental health is stigmatized within the medical profession to the detriment of all.
As physicians who are dedicated to caring for the physical and mental health of others, we’re appalled at the level of inaction among our own organizations when it comes to caring for us. Please sign this petition to urge the AAMC and ACGME to track medical student and physician suicides, to enact policy requiring medical training programs to take concrete actions to combat the culture of abuse, and to offer routine and confidential on-the-job psychological support to all medical students and physicians.
Ashley Maltz is an integrative medicine physician and can be reached on her self-titled site, Ashley Maltz, MD, MPH. Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Physician Suicide Letters — Answered and Pet Goats and Pap Smears. Watch her TEDx talk, How to Get Naked with Your Doctor. She hosts the physician retreat, Live Your Dream, to help her colleagues heal from grief and reclaim their lives and careers.
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