Why are so many male anesthesiologists dying by suicide? →


Pamela Wible: I’m sitting here today with mental health expert Sydney Ashland, who co-facilitates our physician retreats. We just came back from our 20th retreat and I’m reading through some e-mails and I’ve got one that I want to discuss with you.

“I’m a male anesthesiologist. I have been battling suicidal ideation for seven years and eight months. I vividly remember the day I was admitted. A colleague came into my locked office and saw me sitting at the desk with induction meds and an IV. My career was over and nearly my life. I know seven colleagues that have committed suicide, all male anesthesiologists.”

What’s unique about men in medicine that puts them at high risk? Obviously, anesthesiologists have access to lethal meds, but it’s got to be deeper than that. What do you think?

Sydney Ashland: I think that our men in general in society are experiencing a lot of double binds and unrealistic expectations, and then when you have a high-level expert, like a physician who is trained for so many years and who is under so much pressure and has so much responsibility, the idea that a physician is going to manage that and succeed professionally and personally is just ludicrous. We’ve set them up to fail and the fact that this anesthesiologist writes about his attempt to self medicate in order just to survive, I hear this all the time from physicians who get into addiction cycles, whether that’s medication, whether it’s alcohol, illicit relationships. It’s all a way of trying to cope and manage unbelievable amounts of stress. Read more ›

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NYC doctor suicides linked to bullying? →

Pamela Wible: I am consulting with Sydney Ashland about the recent suicides in New York City. There were two at NYU within five days of each other—a medical student and a psychiatry resident. Today I received this email:

“Dear Dr. Wible, two residents have killed themselves within a single month at NYU Langone. One of them hanged herself in my finance’s building. The building’s windows were jammed to not open more than a couple of inches after another resident jumped to her death two years ago. I guess they thought this and offering student counseling services would stop residents from killing themselves. A part of me wants to apologize for the last sentence and ward off my cynicism, but I won’t because, as you said, we need to shine a light on medicine’s dirty little secret before it’s too late. There are posters offering counseling services and heartfelt emails being sent to the students, but here’s one thing no one in power to help is mentioning—the supervisors and their bullying.”

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14 reasons to quit residency (and why I’m staying) →

Jennifer, an intern who I hung out with at our recent physician retreat, wanted my advice about quitting her residency. I told her to send me her pros & cons. Here’s her list—14 reasons to quit (& 17 to stay) plus my thoughts below.

14 reasons to quit residency

Usually have these feelings when I am extremely overwhelmed

To take care of me, physical, emotional, spiritually

Expand soul

To live in the highest love

To share my gifts with the world

Have become more angry, spiteful, sad, uninspired at times (but am ok when get good rest)

To travel with my family (can do this after 2 years)

No more abuse (but am closer to family/friends as I reach out and get help, breaks very useful)

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Suicide prevention keynote gets standing ovation at AMSA →

Joey Johnson:  We are honored to introduce our keynote speakers, Dr. Pamela Wible and Robyn Symon. Dr. Wible speaks widely on healthcare delivery and is a best-selling author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. When not treating patients Dr. Wible devotes herself to medical student and physician suicide prevention. An inspiring leader and educator of the next generation of physicians, Dr. Wible has been named one of the 2015 Women Leaders in Medicine and TEDMED calls her the “Physician’s Guardian Angel.”

Robyn Symon is a two-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, specializing in documentaries and television series. Her most recent film, Do No Harm focuses on the toxic culture of medicine and the effect on doctors, medical students and their families. We’re also privileged to have with us today, John and Michele Deitl, who will share their personal story of their son, Kevin—a promising medical student who was lost to suicide. Please join me in welcoming, with much emotion, Dr. Wible, Robyn Symon, and the Deitl’s to the stage. 

Robyn Symon: Thank you so much, it’s so great to be here, it’s an honor. This is actually the first time the film has been shown outside of MD Anderson. I took a little pit stop on the way over from LA to screen it. It was fascinating because it was a combination of administrators, faculty and residents. After the screening, people were in shock, the administrators were there to defend what they were doing or trying to do, some of the faculty were concerned about wellness were there to say, “This is just like lip service.” And the residents were kind of scared about what was happening and if they had any power to change anything. This film, we hope, is a conversation starter about the problem and we need to come up with solutions together because it’s complex. 

How many of you have seen the film last night? What did you think? Good? Awesome. It’s funny, I was watching the SIM operation here earlier and it just reminded me (I’m not a doctor, maybe I’m hoping an honorary one after spending four years at med school) if you ever go out to dinner with a group of physicians things can get very strange. We’re eating and all of a sudden (many times over the past four years) the conversation will turn to their latest surgery, with great detail, “Oh, we made this incision and there was this big mess there and he cut and I was looking at the blood spurting” and I’m looking at my food and it’s like, “This meal is over.” And they were like, “It was nothing.” So, it’s really an honor to be able to eat and talk like that. You guys are brilliant, brilliant. But just keep that in mind when you’re in mixed company. . .

I actually started this journey four years ago in 2014. Someone had sent me an op-ed story from the New York Times about these two young doctors who jumped from the roofs of their hospitals. Brilliant, young residents with their whole lives ahead of them. They had gone through so much to get to where they were and they jumped, right off the ledge. I just couldn’t understand it. So, I started to look into the reasons why; the competitions, the bullying, the hazing, the pimping, the sleep deprivation, the lack of coping skills that you’re given, its like a time bomb waiting to go off. So, let me show you this trailer and then we can talk a little bit about the reality of what’s happening and then let’s talk about you and how we can all make a difference together. So let’s roll that.

View official documentary website and request to screen film

Robyn Symon: Not to scare you . . . it’s still a noble calling but, it’s time for change. This has been a hidden epidemic for decades, nothing’s been done about it. I think with the advent of social media now is the time that we can change because we can all be in touch. It’s interesting, firemen, policemen, they function as teams and when things go wrong, they have each other to support each other. But physicians, for some reason, function like islands. So they don’t tend to lean on each other. Weakness is frowned upon. 

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Dr. Wible Keynote: “Act, Don’t Ask” →

Dr. Wible’s AMSA keynote from March 10, 2018, is transcribed and edited below. Click here for FULL keynote address—that received a standing ovation!

Pamela Wible: Alright I’m a little sleep deprived, I was in this room after the film last night until 1:00 in the morning, hanging out with medical students. It was awesome!

I went into medicine (probably like a lot of you) thinking that I was going to just help individual patients one-on-one. I really had no idea that what I was going to end up doing is help heal the entire medical system. I’d like you to open your minds to the idea that you can do so much more than helping that one individual in front of you. You can actually heal entire groups of people at once. You can heal entire healthcare systems—by using your voice and your power to heal.

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