Please sign my physician suicide letter

Petition to end medical student and physician suicide

Dear AAMC and ACGME,

This week we lost another bright, young soul to suicide. Sean Petro was in his third year at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and is the third tragedy at his school in the last two years.

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. So how can we solve a problem that’s hidden?

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 when so many of us are contemplating or completing suicide?

The fact is we enter medicine with our mental health on par with or better than our peers. Medical education too often involves years of public humiliation, bullying, and sleep deprivation. Those who seek help risk punishment. Mental health remains 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. We urge the AAMC and ACGME to track medical student and physician suicides, to end the highly abusive culture of medical training, and to offer routine and confidential on-the-job psychological support to all medical students and physicians.

Inaction and ignorance are no longer an option. Lives are on the line. This is a public health crisis that impacts us all.

Sincerely,

 Ashley Maltz, M.D., M.P.H., and  Pamela Wible, M.D.

(Attention physicians: please support this letter with a blog comment and add your name to the petition.)

Pamela Wible, M.D., is the author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. Please join us in shining a spotlight on physician suicide. Need help? Contact Dr. Wible.

Posted in Physician Suicide
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33 comments on “Please sign my physician suicide letter
  1. Jeff Jones says:

    I put my wife through Med school and residency, I know this is true

  2. Wayne Smith MD says:

    So sad to hear we lost another medical student to suicide. Thanks for beating the drum to make this issue a priority for the medical profession.

  3. Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. says:

    How many suicides have not been medical students or residents? Is this number rising also?

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Many other demographics are rising. Have not studied other groups as I have docs. We can easily prevent med student/doc suicides by addressing the human rights abuses within training.

      • Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. says:

        I was wondering about suicides in doctors other than those who are medical students, interns, and residents. Is the rate going up in practicing physicians who are having to deal with paying off student loans; forging through red tape of insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid, and Big Pharma; and the moral and ethical dilemma of HMOs and hospitals forcing doctors to practice profiteering medicine not taught in training? Aren’t some of these entities abusive also?

  4. Doug McMurray says:

    We need Doctors so badly in rural America

  5. Jim Cox says:

    Sleep deprivation is not good for interns or patients. Harvard has a “Work Hours, Health and Safety Group”. They did an “Intern Sleep and Patient Safety Study”, with the results reported in NEJM.

    Landrigan, C. P., Rothschild, J. M., Cronin, J. W. et al. (2004) Effect of reducing interns’ work hours on serious medical errors in intensive care units. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 1838-1848.

    Landrigan et al. (2004) found that “interns made substantially more serious medical errors when they worked frequent shifts of 24 hours or more than when they worked shorter shifts”.

    Lockley, S. W., Cronin, J. W., Evans, E. E., et al. (2004). Effect of reducing intern’s weekly work hours on sleep and attentional failures. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 1829 – 1837.

    Interns worked a traditional schedule and an interventional schedule in a crossover design. Interestingly, they note that their even their intervention schedule, with reduced work hours “still exceeded the limits imposed by many other safety-sensitive industries, such as transportation and nuclear power, on the number of consecutive hours of work”.

  6. Jim Cox says:

    Article about bullying in O.R. by Aisha Sultan.

    Sultan, A. (2016, May 14). Pediatric surgeon faces bullying in operating room, works to change the culture. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/relationships-and-special-occasions/parenting/aisha-sultan/aisha-sultan-pediatric-surgeon-faces-bullying-in-operating-room-works/article_5d55719d-1e2c-508a-8572-4fdb1d7d7b7b.html

  7. Danie Botha says:

    The only way this tide of blatant (and subtle) abuse and secrecy will ever change is if more of us speak up, insisting on “no more!”

  8. So awful. I can’t believe this is still happening.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I know Jennifer. Read the comments on the petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/869/066/029/demand-aamc-and-acgme-put-an-end-to-medical-student-and-resident-suicide/

      A first year student at my school committed suicide earlier this year. The entire school has been impacted, yet I see no change in addressing student well-being and mental health. Something needs to be done to hold schools accountable for the health of their students. ~ Cheryl Hornsby

      The lack of compassion and understanding of depression prevented me from accomplishing my dream of becoming a physician. ~ anonymous

      A friend and co-resident committed suicide my 2nd year of residency and ACGME never formally commented. I would’ve like to see more done then and now. ~ Cherie Hill

      The attempted suicides and self-destructive behaviors in this educational system and profession also need to be addressed. ~ Leslie Bardessono

      Medical student suicide is out of control. The medical profession stigmatizes those who need treatment for anxiety or depression. Everybody has passed through it at least once in their life. We need better support structures in place for med students and physicians. We need to start the advocacy fight now. ~ Frankyln Rocha

      Medical student, resident physician and physician suicide is out of control. ~ David Aizuss

      I have known two medical students, 1 resident and 2 physicians who have committed suicide since medical school. I am only 3 years out of residency…..sad. ~ Rebecca Armendariz

      Adding “resilience training” to the curriculum isn’t the answer. ~ Diana Haugen

      In past 30 years I have known 8 anaesthetists who have taken their lives, this is 8 too many. ~ Melanie Jones

  9. Henry says:

    It’s the culture that medical schools create!
    Medical students are supposed to attend full time courses, participate in research, volunteer, do clinic time, network with professional groups, and keep up with their social lives. It’s too much!
    Things will get much, much worse in the future when students realize that there aren’t enough residency spots in the country to meet the rise in medical school students.
    I go to a DO school very close to USC and, honestly, it is the same here. The stress, the lack of financial stability, the lack of time! It’s crazy! Faculty aren’t involved in the students lives to see the symptoms of depression. It is an epidemic! I heard it gets worse while in residency, when students work an illegal amount of hours to make minimum wage. Thank you for keeping us up to date Dr. Wible

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Full-scale investigation of human rights abuses, ACLU, ADA all should be called in to deal with this. Only getting worse. Please sign petition and keep sharing.

  10. Oh Ugh says:

    Very tragic to hear about yet another loss within the medical community. I can only guess medical training institutions (as well as administrations of physician employers in general) will try to do anything to shift attention, shift blame, or do something PC to deal with/avoid this as they hope something will magically change for the better regarding this subject.

    I think it is ironic that in the past, and hopefully not still occurring now, some residency programs have been rumored/known to strongarm trainees into psychiatric treatment (who may not have even needed it at all) within a biased against the trainee environment in their own institution as a punitive sit down and shut up, you are our property until you graduate move. No wonder medicine can be seen as a power play torture chamber for some. Then, the ones who really need someone kind and trustworthy in their lives–a mentor, friend, or maybe even a formal psych counseling session–they are afraid to seek help out of fear of looking “bad”…and we all know the possible tragic outcomes that could occur thereafter.

    Thank you Pamela, Ashley, and anyone else who is acknowledging this issue and working hard for change.

  11. Cheryl Petro Collier says:

    Sean Petro was my son and I had no idea until this happened that so many medical students are turning to suicide and it is now epidemic. I really hope medical schools figures out how to help these young people. I don’t want another parent to live my nightmare

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I know. Heartbreaking. Parents have no idea that their children have such a high risk for suicide during medical training. I’ve been working on this topic for 4 years now. We are doing a documentary to shed light on this taboo topic that the public has no idea exists. http://donoharmfilm.com (see movie trailer here)

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I’ll email you privately as well.

  12. This is the email I sent to my colleagues at the emergency department at Scripps Mercy Hospital before returning to work after hearing that Sean Petro took his life.

    >
    > Sean Petro, who I referred to as my adopted son, took his own life this Monday, just after Mother’s day. He was an integral part of our family ever since he lost his father when he was 15. He was another brother to my 4 children. My kids describe that he has been to more Jewish events than most Jews. I joke that he was “better” than a real child, because your own kids give you grief sometimes, but Sean only gave me joy. I had no clue that he suffered from depression. I saw none of the classical signs we are taught to look for. He was a third year medical student as USC and just completed officer training school at the US Navy. He spent all day with us on Saturday and we had a wonderful time laughing, joking, and hanging out. We talked about going to his graduation dressed in his white uniform. We talked about him doing a transition year at Balboa and how I would see him during his Trauma rotation at Mercy. There were no long good byes, just see your later. I had no idea.
    >
    > Jeremy Egnatios was a 3rd year medical student at UCSD who committed suicide last year just after father’s day. You may have read about him on the news because it occurred at the UCSD library. Jeremy was amazingly accomplished with over 7 publications and numerous awards in his young life. I talked to Jeremy a few days before he took his life. We were working on a publication and putting in the final revisions. He wanted to go into emergency medicine and I told him how he should go to an ACEP conference. He sounded like he liked the idea and took down the date. I had no idea.
    >
    > Both Sean and Jeremy were authors on the “Death Diary” publications I wrote. With great precision, and lots of manual labor, Sean created the data base of 254 deaths, 4000 prescriptions, perhaps over 100,000 data points. Jeremy did a lot of the writing for the methadone paper. I was worried that these young boys took some type of overdose after working on a morbid topic of people dying from overdose. They didn’t. Jeremy cut his throat. Sean and I talked about Jeremy and were horrified. Sean hanged himself.
    >
    > Did you know that medical students commit suicide 2x more than the general population? Depression is endemic in the medical profession. I have two daughters who are considering medical school, and I am scared for them. For me the journey was painful, but worth it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But do I want my own children to sacrifice their mental health for their profession?
    >
    > We in medicine do such amazing work in healing others, but I think we do a crappy job about simply being kind to each other. Our nature is to be hard on ourselves and expect more of ourselves. It’s what makes us successful, but also makes us vulnerable. I believe if we invested the time in being nice to each other, we would be happier, and that would translate to even better care for our patients.
    >
    > I love my job, I love Scripps Mercy, I have full confidence in my colleagues. We are not perfect, but we are pretty damn good, and I think we are the best in San Diego.
    >
    > I needed to share this story with you, because in case I do not seem like myself, it is because I am not. Life will never be the same for me, but I will be ok, so please don’t worry.
    > But I have a new mission (besides prescription drug abuse): the medical profession needs to be kinder to each other.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thank you for sharing. We need more doctors to share how they are feeling. Hiding our feelings is as dangerous as hiding these suicides. We simply can not sweep these brilliant people under the rug as “isolated” cases. This is an epidemic. And we are not even properly tracking the data. Shameful.

  13. Private-name says:

    This is so sad. This is happening also among PhD students in the Medical Sciences. I don’t know the statistics, or the rate of suicide, but Depression, severe depression is a great concern among students. There is too much pressure, not sleep, humiliation, frustration…If you ask for help, you will be ignored, or will carry a red flag on you for the rest of the time you are there. Most than half of the students need a psychotherapist (private paid) to keep going. We are humans are so open now for certain things, we call ourselves “liberals” and “accepting’…it is all B.S. Hopefully this awareness gets out there for us too.

  14. Jennifer Sinclair says:

    This should be top news on TV instead of those dumb reality shows. But these people are dying by suicide and it is treated so insignificantly. That makes me so upset!
    Jennifer

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      It’s a cover up on the part of many institutions. Terrible way to treat our healers. It’s like a double suicide. They suicide to escape the mistreatment and then their suicides are covered up. That’s not science, it’s deception. Our medical institutions are behaving shamefully toward their own people.

  15. Charles McCammon says:

    I graduated from USC school of medicine in 1982. It wasn’t Keck back then. I see things have not changed many residents and attendings were bullies then and they must still be! I transferred in from a foreign medical school and was very mouthy at first about the unnecessary and dangerous care I encountered. My mouth and some deficiencies in Med-1 got me flunked! I was devastated, depressed and thinking of suicide! No one from the school talked with me! I was left to think I was a complete failure! I got married the week after I was flunked! My wife with whom I am still married was very supportive! But oh what she has endured! From then on I shut up and kept my head down. I did 15 years of private family practice and about 5 years in got interested in hospice an palliative care! After 15 years I quit my practice and since have done palliative care in New Zealand, a major academic American medical center, and several hospices. Keck sends requests for money! Ha! I now liberate patients from the industrial-medical complex!(not all need liberation, but I have a good idea of those that do) The lack of empathy appears not to have changed, shame on Keck!

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Cheryl Collier lost her only child to suicide at Keck. More on Sean Petro here https://www.statnews.com/2016/07/21/depression-suicide-physicians/

    • Cheryl Collier says:

      Dear Charles,

      You are so right about Keck. My only son Sean died on Mother’s Day May 2016. He had just finished his 3rd year Med Student. The very day my son’s body was found at his apt by USC police. My husband was offered money by Keck. He was told to name a price & don’t worry about the number. We said no thanks but to this day we still don’t know why we were offered money. I could go on and on about how they’ve mistreated us. They have lied to us and added to our grief. I used to be proud to say Sean was going there to school. Now I hate just hearing USC or Kecks name. I don’t know what it will take to get them to change

      • Charles McCammon says:

        I am without words, your story is devastating. No parent should have to go through losing a child. When I worked in a big American academic medical center I thought things might have changed. I got into palliative care because there was a tendency to emphasize self care. However I had the same dread I had when I was a 3rd year medical student at USC. I now realize the same mistreatment was going on at my place of work as what happened to me so many years ago! I am so sad that this still happens. In New Zealand everyone checked on everyone else rest and restoration were emphasized. The Med students had a very strong Union, mental and physical health were emphasized there is another way, we in the USA have chosen the soul killing, competitive way! Your loss devastates me. Things have not changed for over 30 years, unforgivable.

        • Cheryl Collier says:

          Charles, Your so right no parent should ever lose a child. Especially just because they attended medical school. I wish my son either never applied to medical school. Maybe he should have gone to school in New Zealand.
          Charles I could tell you a long list of the things Keck has said or done to us. They forgot to invite us to the Memorial they planned for my son. We found out days before the memorial. We of course had to call theto see if we were invited. The night of the Memorial one of the assoc. deans came up to me and said she doesn’t understand how it’s getting around that they’ve had 3 suicides at Keck. She was stared straight at me as it was her, a friend of Sean’s & myself. I asked about a boy named Derrick who went missing my son’s first year. She said he’s never been found. I’d like to think he went to Cabo Mexico & became a bartender. Then she told me a doctor died suddenly the year before (he jumped off the too landed in the quad) so yeah he died suddenly. Then she said Sean. Who says this crap to a grieving mom at her son’s memorial service. That same dean later tried to say she didn’t know Sean died by suicide for a week or more. Keep in mind USC police & her assistant was there when they found him in his apartment. This is just a few things they’ve said or have done to us.

  16. charles mccammon says:

    I have been invited to a 35th class reunion for the 1982 USC med school class I have been asked for my memories if it is ok with Cheryl Collier I would like to send the following letter to USC:

    I don’t specifically remember the names of the teachers that I remember the most but here is an attempt:
    David “K” my 2nd med 1 resident(after I flunked med 1 the first time, he was a cardiology fellow):
    My surgery rotation chief (can’t remember his name)
    The medicine rotation chief who took over from a previous medicine chief.
    I remember these people because they showed compassion, interest and kindness to me after I was flunked in Med I for unsatisfactory performance by a renal fellow whose name I do remember and the previous Medicine rotation chief. I feel I was never given an adequate explanation for why I flunked. I imagine it was for subpar clinical performance, my mouth(which was squelched but now I have found my voice again and it is an asset not a liability both to myself and my patients, no thanks to USC) and that I was very scared. No one ever asked how flunking affected me or why my performance was so poor! To say the least I was depressed, thought of suicide and other horrible thoughts. I was married about a week after I flunked. That saved me. My wife and the 3 people (I am not sure if they knew I had flunked) I mentioned above saved my life. USC med school did not.
    I have corresponded with XXXXXX XXXXXXX the mother of XXXX XXXXX through Pamela Wible MD’s blog. I could have been XXXX. Now I hear of a USC Graduate student’s suicide. This is disturbing. Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito’s recent problems are disturbing.
    Hopefully not many USC med school graduates are among the surprising number of physician suicides but there probably are some. I think that is worth some study. I thought that bullying would now be under control.
    I have taught medical students at a large medical center in New Zealand and a large medical center here in Southern California. New Zealand does a better job at nurturing. I am sorry to say the other medical center in So Cal has not controlled bullying nor have they learned how to nurture students. I venture to say from recent events neither has USC.
    I have never had a subpar academic or practical performance prior or after my Med 1 performance at USC. It is my hope that after 35 years USC KECK is doing some investigation to keep gifted, valuable students from killing themselves. Our country and our communities need them!
    Fight on, I mean truly Fight on!
    Thank you
    Charles McCammon Jr. MD(board certified Family Medicine, Geriatrics and Hospice and Palliative Medicine)

  17. Cheryl Collier says:

    Charles,

    I would be honored to have you mention my son Sean in your letter. You have my permission to use Sean’s suicide in any way that can prevent another death. I am not sure USC/Keck will like you using my son’s name or my name for that matter. I have been a thorn in the school’s side since Sean died. I will continue to be that thorn in their side as long as I don’t see real change.

    With the recent discovery of the medical student this past week after being dead in his dorm room for a week is just so disgusting. Not only did his fellow students fail him but the school it’s self failed. How can a school not notice a student isn’t attending classes for a week. They are trying to say that this student just died of natural causes. I hope the corner finds the truth. I personally find it hard to believe a 24 yr. old just lays down on his bed full dressed except his shoes and dies.

    Then the conduct of the previous dean with his drug use and prostitute and felon friends is just beyond belief. In no way will you convince me that USC was not aware of his problems. They turned their heads to his bad behavior because he brought in over a billion dollars. It’s all about money with this school. Even the students my son included knew the former dean had a drinking problem. Every picture I ever saw of the dean his eyes were either glassy or blood shot. I had even talked to Sean about him and some of Sean’s friends about the dean. Everyone said “Oh he loves to drink and party” If the students knew you can’t tell me the University didn’t know.

    I am glad you had at least a core group of people to help you make it through school. Sean reached out for help to one person but unfortunately for him this person was struggling with their own demons. I believe if Sean had reached out to anyone else he may be here today.

    I hope your letter will make a difference

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