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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
37 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! 

This blog picked up by The Washington Post: Dismissed George Washington resident with cancer, sues school, alleging discrimination and becomes one of the most read stories of the day. 

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

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

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: , , , , , , ,
122 Comments

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Physician suicide book banned, stolen from hospital →

BannedThumbnailWeb

Letter I just received from an anesthesiologist:

Pamela,

I had previously written you about the death of one of our residents in the anesthesia department [of a prominent US hospital]. I had mentioned another death [confirmed suicide] of a former internal medicine resident who had just started his fellowship.

I also want to let you know that our department is doing their best to continue the culture of shaming and secrecy around physician suicide. We are not allowed to talk about what happened. We have not had any sort of service to honor our own grief. We have been given various excuses for the lack thereof.

I had also purchased 6 copies of your book for my residents. I had not distributed them but had told a few about their presence. Please see the department wide email that I sent last week. The departmental administration should be ashamed of themselves. Please share this information as you see fit.

Sincerely,

Dr. J

 

Subject: Book on Physician Suicide

To all,

I have purchased a few books about physician suicide by Pamela Wible, M.D. I have had them for the better part of a month and have not sent a notice that I had them available for anyone. I was refused reimbursement from the department as this was considered to be a personal expense (for 6 books). I had previously purchased books on wellness and had been able to cover them through the department.

On Monday I was summoned to the office of the division chief. I had assumed that I was to be informed as to why the books were not eligible for funds. Instead I was informed by the executive vice chair that “the department did not want me to distribute these books to the residents.” At that time I also discovered that the division chief had stolen these books from the anesthesia workroom where I had placed them on the shelf. Since I have now recovered them I am making them available for anyone that is interested.

Dr. J

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If you are appalled by the behavior of those who wish to cover up the medical student/physician suicide crisis, please join our upcoming vigils across America to stand in solidarity with us, pledge your support of Do No Harm, the forthcoming documentary on physician suicide, and sign this petition. Thank you!

Here’s what happens when we don’t talk about physician suicide. More physician suicide:

BullyingBanningBooks

Love Banned Books

Pamela Wible, M.D., is the author of the best selling book, Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. Photo courtesy of Yvonne Whitelaw, M.D., and quote by James Howe. Thank you all for reading banned books and for seeking the truth. 

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

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Secret recordings expose abuse of junior doctors →

“Our incoming class at my medical school was just told by our Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs on our first day of orientation that he was there to crush our souls. His idea of welcome to medical school.”  

Daily I receive messages from medical students like this one. I told this student to record all future lectures and to instruct classmates to do the same. Then a physician sent me a video of a junior doctor who did, in fact, record her abuse. Then she posted it online. To eradicate the culture of bullying and abuse in medicine, all medical students, residents, and physicians must begin recording the evidence. Then post your recordings online. Like Yumna. 

Hi. My name is Yumna Moosa. I want to tell you why I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. Last year I worked under a man who sexually harassed me. It wasn’t only me. It wasn’t aways sexual. It was open and it was every day. Humiliating and degrading lower-ranking doctors is a big part of medical education. So he is an award-winning teacher.

I had to say something.

I had my phone with me while the hospital management explained that actually there was nothing wrong with my supervisor’s behavior. First, the racism. 

Supervisor #1: “Are you defining yourself as Coloured? By race?”

Yumna: “Well, it’s tricky for me.”

Supervisor#1: “Pick one.”

Yumna: “I don’t want to.”

Supervisor#1: “No you’re saying that this is a racist problem so you must pick a race and then we work from there. . .  In the last two years, as far as I can see, there’ve been 16 Whites, 43 Indians, 33 Blacks and 10 Coloureds, of which this one, I’m going to classify you as Coloured whether you like it or not. In this diverse group of people BEEP is in your group, he must have experienced the same process because he’s part of, he’s a Coloured and he is in the department of BLEEP.”

Yumna: “An example of something I mean is to say to a particular Black person, ‘You’re being stupid like a Black person.’ So it’s not to all the Black people, it’s to that person, but it is referring to their race in the insult. And that has happened.”

Supervisor #1: “Okay, so that’s individualizing.” 

Supervisor #2: “It’s not racism then. Racism is against a particular race. If I’m racist I will be racist against every White man in the room.” 

Yumna: “Otherwise it is not racism?”

Supervisor #1: “It’s not racism. No.”

Supervisor #2: “It’s individualizing. Or say let’s use sexual harassment. Because sexual harassment the definition is something that you personally feel uncomfortable with. So if he makes the remark and I’m comfortable with that remark, then it’s not sexism.” 

Supervisor #1: “Friendly banter.”

Yumna: “But does it have to make every woman that has ever spoken to him uncomfortable?”

Supervisor #1: “Yes. That’s the definition of sexism.”

Yumna: “If a single woman doesn’t mind being told that women are stupid and irrational and incompetent, then it is not sexisim?”

Supervisor #1: “Then it’s not sexism. No.”

An essential skill for doctors is speaking with absolute authority. But saying that we did take that nonsense seriously, how do you count how many people are uncomfortable?

Yumna: “The first time I came to you to speak about Dr. BLEEP, one of the things you said to me was that I wasn’t the first person who complained. What was that?”

Head of Department: “That was what I heard from a previous consultant.”

Yumna: “Okay.”

Head of Department: “But that’s, you know, there’s no, there was no formal hearing or anything about that, you know, so . . .”

Yumna: “Okay so if it’s not formal, then it didn’t happen.”

Head of Department: “No, It didn’t happen if there was no formal hearing.”

Yumna: “Sure, um . . .”

Since then I’ve found five junior doctors who have submitted written complaints about the behavior of seniors at this hospital. In one case as part of a large group. Nevermind verbal complaints. But these cries for help never became formal. Strange? Here’s why.

[In this recording the head of another department who recently qualified in medical mediation with the University of Cape Town was brought in as a neutral third party.]

Physician mediator: “You know you never when you’re young want to do something that’s going to impact upon you for the next fifteen or twenty years. It will. This will. You’ll never get another job! When I say, ‘Never get another job,’ you’re unlikely once this gets out, this is what you, this is your conduct.”

Yumna: “But, Dr. BLEEP my conduct is explaining that I felt uncomfortable with the behavior of my senior.”

Physician mediator: “You’re welcome to. You’re welcome to. But what I’m trying to get across to you: you’re one out of 360. If 359 have agreed with it you’re stok, steen, aleen [ Afrikaans: stok, steen, aleen = English stick, stone, alone = completely alone] and the departments, no department wants a person who is the loner. So if everybody is happy with a certain setup, we all drink beer at lunch time and you wanna come say, ‘I don’t drink beer’ then ‘No. Fuck off. This department drinks beer at lunch time. We don’t want you.’ You know, whatever the decision, whatever the processes are, if you want to be the loner, people will not want you in the department.”

Yumna: “It’s confusing because a lot of these things that happen are problematic. It is problematic.”

Physician meditator: “Only to you.”

Yumna: “The fact that there’s a workplace that is sexist is problematic.”

Physician mediator: “Only to you. Only to you.”

Yumna: “That’s not true, Dr. BLEEP, it’s not.”

Physician mediator: “Yumna. I’m an old man in this game. Only to you under these, this circumstance. And nobody is 100% happy at work. I’ve been in this game a long time. I’m telling you, grow up.”

Yumna: “Okay.”

Physician mediator: “Act like a doctor and you’ll be treated like one. Act like you’re a little spoiled brat and you’ll be treated like one. Grow up. My advice to you.”  

Yumna: “I appreciate the conversation.”

[Yumna shows him her Medical Internship Logbook that contains feedback about harassment.]

Physician mediator: “Chuck that book away. Stand up and say, ‘An Act of God has occurred’ and God works in mysterious and wonderful ways and that your book has been lost. You’re applying for a new one and having thought about it and that you had a long chat and you realize that maybe what you said was inappropriate. Whether you do or whether you don’t, it’s not my problem.”

Yumna: “You just think that’s the main solution.” 

Physician mediator: “Well I’m telling you it’s the solution.”

The book contains the only full record of my two years of supervised medical work as an intern. I didn’t throw it away. And then I heard that I couldn’t continue with my career. The head of the department wrote that after two years of notoriously grueling work as a doctor in South African hospitals I still have worse clinical skills than a university student and need to be retrained because I’m unsafe.

Head of department: “The reason why she’s not been signed off is regards some serious clinical performances and mismanagement of patients. As HOD of the department I cannot sign off an intern who I feel whose training has not been sufficient for her to learn the basic principles.”

In order to assist my career they were deliberately sabotaging it so I would learn a lesson about what it means to be a good doctor and more importantly so would my colleagues. Very long story short the Health Professionals Council of South Africa overturned the HOD’s decision. They finally said I’m allowed to work as a doctor. Why am I posting this video about how I don’t want to?

YumnaJpeg

I’m doing this publicly because I want attention. Every day other junior doctors in South Africa and around the world are subject to the same kind of institutional coercion that I was. STOP PUTTING UP WITH THIS.

As a former doctor I have nothing left to lose. I can take some risks and hopefully show how the law will provide support. Meanwhile those with influence must deal with the systemic culture of abuse in medicine. It is tricky. One sympathetic health official is now considering removing the feedback section from internship logbooks so other junior doctors can’t get themselves into trouble by complaining. 

It comes up over and over again. The harms I’ve suffered are my own fault. I brought them upon myself by not just keeping my head down. Medicine is a military hierarchy. Juniors are constantly told this is what your seniors went through and we must just do our time and get it over with. Some think this “just obey orders approach” is the best way to deal with emergencies or an overwhelming war against poverty and disease.

Me? I genuinely believe in the healing power of kindness and mutual respect and the importance of honest communication for avoiding deadly mistakes or learning from them. I’m a young educated person who is committed to making a contribution to my society so I am doing everything I can to prevent anyone else having my experience and I am looking elsewhere for my true calling.

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Yumna Moosa is currently a research fellow preparing to register for a PhD in bioinformatics. Two of the senior doctors are facing charges of professional misconduct for what they did to her. 

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What you can do:

  1. Join www.facebook.com/respectYourJuniors and share your stories.
  2. Sign this petition to stop bullying of junior doctors in South Africa.
  3. Sign this petition to stop bullying/abuse of med students/junior doctors in USA.
  4. View movie trailer & pledge your support the documentary Do No Harm.
  5. Join our August 20th solidarity vigils across America.
  6. Record abuse of medical students/junior doctors and take action.

 

Here’s what happens if we don’t address the culture of abuse in medicine:

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician who has dedicated her career to eradicating bullying and abuse from medical education and to preventing medical student/physician suicide. Contact Dr. Wible.

Posted in Physician Abuse & Bullying Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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