Approximately 1 million patients in the United States lose their physicians to suicide each year, Pamela Wible, MD, noted in the keynote address at the 19th Annual Chicago Orthopaedic Symposium.
Dr. Wible, who has written in The Washington Post and elsewhere on this subject, labels the issue “a global public health crisis.”
She has uncovered more than 1,000 suicides among physicians and medical students — the overwhelming majority in the U.S. — in recent years.
Surgeons had the highest number of deaths on Dr. Wible’s registry, followed by anesthesiologists. However, as a proportion of physicians in those specialties, the suicide rate among anesthesiologists was significantly higher than that of surgeons: 120 suicides among approximately 41,400 anesthesiologists, compared with 148 suicides among roughly 110,000 surgeons.
Male physicians were four times as likely as females to take their own lives.
Dr. Wible found the culture surrounding the practice of medicine does not encourage physicians to address mental health issues.
“[P]rivate conversations with therapists could be turned over to medical boards and illegally accessed by their supervisors via electronic medical records at their institutions,” she writes on her website. “So physicians drive out of town, pay cash and use fake names in paper charts to hide from state boards, hospitals and insurance plans that interrogate doctors about their mental health and may prevent or delay state licensure, hospital privileges and health plan participation.”