Medical student: “I was less stressed in Afghanistan” →

Medical School Abuse

Dear Pamela,

Let me start off by telling you that I am a warrior, a protector, and a healer. I am an Army Veteran. I’ve worked as an EMT, completed a bachelors degree and 2 years of medical school, plus I’m raising a family. I’ve achieved amazing things, but I have never been defeated like I’ve been over these past few years. 

Honestly, I was less stressed in Afghanistan. Medical school is worse than my deployment experience. 

It’s not easy to share this so bear with me. When I finished undergrad, I decided to be a doctor. So off I went. Completed my sciences at a local community college, volunteered at hospitals, and worked as an EMT to beef up my resume for med school applications. I got all my applications in then boom, I was deployed to Afghanistan. I was recruited to deploy with Military Police as a combat medic. During the first few missions I was scared for my life. After that, I became numb to that fear and just focused on making sure I was able to save my guys’ lives if we were attacked. The stress was incredible, but I had their back and they had mine. In an unsafe country and a future filled with uncertainty I felt secure because we supported each other.

Once I was home I started medical school and I was SO excited! I was finally living out my dream. I’ve always been able to make friends with no problem and I’ve always done well in school, so I was good to go. I am not the traditional medical student. I’m 30 with a family and it turns out my life is very different than my peers, so I isolated myself. The course material was incredibly difficult for me. I struggled. I barely passed some exams and always wondered if I would make it to the next course. I worked so hard to do well, but couldn’t hack it. I was just in awe at how much more intelligent everyone else around me was. 

This was it, I had put all of my eggs in this basket and my basket was falling apart. I cried almost every single day. My family was there to support me but no one could understand what I was going through. Or so I thought. I never really opened up to other medical students because they seemed so smart and were doing well. It was bad. Here’s the worst part: I thought it would be easier to die than continue living like this. I started to see a therapist and we identified that I was persistently depressed and passively SUICIDAL. 

I know I’m a strong, intelligent woman. But medical school broke me down. 

I’m in my 3rd year now and have realized what is most important to me: self care, my family, and close friends. I can’t help others at my own expense anymore. I get that I’m learning information that will save peoples lives and I need to take it seriously. Believe me, I do. Yeah, I get nervous that I will be pimped and not know the answer to a question or do bad on a test again. But I am DONE letting that stop me from living a life I love. Regardless of my transcript and test scores, I will be an amazing doctor! I already make a difference in people’s lives and will continue to do so.

I hope other med students can learn something from my story. You are all amazing! Please take care of yourselves.

Pamela, thank you for standing up for us. It means the world.

Sincerely,

Michelle

Suicide is an occupational hazard in medicine. Let’s talk about it.

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician and author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. Contact her (confidentially) here. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Posted in Medical School, Medical Student Suicide, Physician Abuse & Bullying Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
28 Comments

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Hospital fires doctor for having cancer →

Stephanie

Dear Pamela,

You’ll never guess what happened to me today. Hours after the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide volunteer webpage went live, I received an email stating that I am officially terminated from my psychiatry residency program. On this webpage, I spoke about the fact that I had become interested in this event during my struggle to get the medical care I needed throughout my residency for my cancer diagnosis. I heard that people from my department were reading it today. Some stated I was very brave, others, well, others do not appreciate such outspokenness. I was even told by some not to participate in the Solidarity event. What are they afraid of? I speak out because I dream of a future where medical students and residents can live without fear of bullying, harassment, and retaliation. I want doctors to be able to care for themselves as well as others. I documented the obstacles I faced in residency so that I could propose solutions to incorporate into a physician wellness program. I hope that chronically ill residents, as well as residents who need routine care such as therapy, could use this program in the future. In describing the difficulties I faced, I quoted the words spoken to me by my attending physician on the day I was diagnosed with cancer, “you need to choose whether you are a doctor or a patient.”

My program had been punishing me and accusing me of being “unprofessional” for attending appointments despite my informing them in advance and providing doctor’s notes. On the webpage launched today, I stated it was also very difficult for us to get mental health treatment. During my research into why this was the case, I found many examples of other residents who have experienced negative consequences after revealing their need for mental health services. It upset me that stigma is so prevalent in this field. Everyone needs help sometimes and doctors can get sick too. I am not sure how many people are aware of the obstacles physicians face when striving to care for themselves physically and mentally. Once the issue is recognized, we can do something to stop it.

Standing up to this is going to be extremely tough. When I began standing up for my basic human right to lifesaving medical care, I was repeatedly retaliated against. This retaliation occurred even after I pointed out the fact that my doctor stated had I not received the treatment they punished me for, I would not likely be alive today.  That fact did not appear to register with my superiors. I then went to the dean’s office, then to the ombudsman, then to the institution’s president. It was a game of hot potato. It was a problem passed around the institution so fast that no one held on long enough to burn their hands. It was as if they thought that, if they ignored me, I would simply go away. I decided to go outside of the institution. That surely got their attention as not even a month after going to the government I received an email from my institution stating there was a vote for my termination. At least they stopped ignoring me.

I had documentation of what I had been through since my diagnosis and proof that my performance was at or above average. Despite major surgery, tubes, drains, fainting, constant vomiting, and panic attacks I was still able to be a good doctor. I always put the safety of my patients first and I don’t think there is anyone in this world who can contest that, not even those who voted for my termination. I was BOTH a doctor and a patient and despite pressure from above I received excellent evaluations from my attendings. So how on earth did they have justification to fire me?  I had hoped that the dean’s office would look at the facts. Apparently, they didn’t. They chose to officially terminate my employment right after the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide volunteer webpage went live. I am not sure what to do at this point. Next week I am scheduled to have an MRI and I do not know if I will have a paycheck or even health insurance to cover it. I know you have helped so many other physicians and you are truly an inspiration to me. I can’t wait to meet you on August 20th. I hope all that I have been through will jumpstart a change in the current medical culture. I want future physicians to not be forced to choose between being a doctor or a patient. 

Thank you so much,

Stephanie 

StephanieFired

Outraged that a hospital would fire a doctor for having cancer? Appalled that a hospital would fire a psychiatric resident for helping suicidal physicians? Show your support. Stand with Stephanie on August 20th.

Please support Stephanie by attending our Solidarity Vigils across America on Saturday, August 20, 2016. Find a Vigil near you on this map. Come meet Stephanie at the Washington DC Vigil or attend one of the other events in Philadelphia, Chicago, Austin, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis,  Athens (OH), Dublin(OH), Harrogate (TN) on August 20th. Middletown (NY) Vigil will be on August 22. Dr. Wible will be speaking at the DC and NY Vigils. Thank you for caring about the people who care for you! 

Posted in Physician Abuse & Bullying, Physician Suicide Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
121 Comments

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I’m a doctor. I’m on Medicaid. I work as a waitress. →

doctor can't get residency

I just received this letter from a physician in the Unites States of America:

Like thousands of medical school graduates each year, I did not get a residency [a residency is an additional 3+ years of medical training after 4 years of medical school and is required to get a medical license]. We might as well be lepers…I did manage to get a very part-time job in the IT department at the hospital for $10 per hour.

Funny thing is that we were launching this automated refill protocol for docs so that they would be less inundated with refill emails…the IT department thought it wasn’t sufficient to have an MA or LPN make such a decision…they said at least an RN…no one wants to do it…they are all too busy…I offered to do it and they said I don’t have a license so it will be the MA that decides whether or not to refill a script. Is there something wrong with this picture or is it just me…

Anyway I have to go back to the cafe and make my living waitressing…can’t draw blood, can’t take BP or pulse nor weight or height yet the MA can and little me with an MD and a masters from an Ivy League school is not qualified without an MA license. Not enough graduate medical education spots despite a complete physician shortage…

I have tried to go abroad and be a doc but they won’t take me. I gave up until I started working in a teaching hospital as an IT intern and I realize every second of the day that these residents are no better than me…anyway even though I would do a better job than an RN, MA or LPN…one of those 3 will be making the refill decisions for our hospital and not me…my MD has to mean something right? Nope …truth is…an MA will get this huge responsibility…bc one needs a license to do anything…and I have no license…my almost illiterate cousin is an LPN in Texas and makes 4 times what I make a year…she knows nothing and even worse she could care less to know anything more than what she absolutely must know…but she will care for patients for the next 40 years and I won’t be able to take a pulse …

My issue is that I know I am better than having to mooch off the state as I am on Medicaid and I qualify for food stamps…mostly bc my loans are so high that if my dad didn’t show mercy on me I would be homeless.  

Fact: 35,476 medical school graduates applied for the 30,750 residency positions in 2016. That’s 4,726 more doctors this year who are not permitted to take a blood pressure. 

This is a fabulous video that summarizes why all of this is happened: 

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Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician and author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. She advocates for humane medical education free from bullying, hazing, and abuse in which all medical students are valued.

Posted in Medical School, Physician Abuse & Bullying Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
118 Comments

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