Medicine suffers from a culture of silence

I am a resident in a fancy hospital in New York. We focus a lot on value-based care, and technological innovations, and high reliability. This year, we are opening a multimillion-dollar new facility for specialty medical services. Our outdoor spaces have stone lions and grassy promenades. Our cafe serves world-class food.

Today, during a beautiful new spring morning, I watched my colleagues sit, in disbelief and despair, crying with each other or amongst themselves, in our beautiful courtyards. Someone we knew died today, potentially by her own hand.

Our leadership talks about wellness, and burnout, and resiliency in residency. But our hospital does not talk about physician suicide until it happens. Our handbook has no real policies for sick days (every shift must be covered, and those without a doctor’s note are required to pay back days), or parental leave (organized on a case by case basis, using paid vacation time as the foundation, and clinic time for the remainder). Our disability insurance is vague on the details of compensation for mental health illnesses, an occupational hazard. Our retirement investments are not matched by our hospital group, despite being one of the wealthiest hospitals in the country. This year, they rolled back the 80-hour workweek limitations, allowing interns to once again work 27+ hour shifts.

Medicine suffers from a culture of silence. We work to the bone, forget to take care of ourselves, get sick, go insane. We kill ourselves at a higher rate than almost any other profession. And when that happens, our leadership sends out emails with condolences, and a link to a corporate psychiatric referral.

We can do better. Our leadership can do better. As residents, it’s time we remind them how valuable we truly are, not only in our work, but in our personhood as well. Our lives matter, too.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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