Since 2015, I’ve advised doctors to stop using the word “burnout.” Here’s why.
Each year our best and brightest, most compassionate students enter medicine—a career with the highest suicide rate of any profession. Each year more than 1 million Americans lose their doctors to suicide. Jumping from hospital rooftops. Found hanging in hospital chapels.
Classic response? Blame the victim, then cover up the suicide with medicine’s favorite victim-blaming buzzword—burnout—a slang word from the 1970s for end-stage drug addiction—now weirdly applied to doctors! Here’s how it works . . .
Physician “burnout” blames the victim NOT the medical system that actually kills doctors—and patients! Plus it’s a cash cow for physician predators and profiteers—all the burnout coaches cannibalizing the corpses of their colleagues—divided and conquered by bullying, hazing, and sleep deprivation—the foundation of medical training that forces new med school grads to legally work 28-hour shifts treating heart attacks, gunshot victims, and delivering stillborns—with no debriefing for their trauma. No bathroom breaks. No time to eat, surgeons collapse from dehydration and hypoglycemia. Here’s a doc found sleeping on an elderly comatose woman while starting her IV. (All true stories) An ICU doc forced to keep working during a seizure. Another doctor working while miscarrying her baby.
These human rights violations lead to suicide (and families destroyed by suicide) plus lifelong physician PTSD, anxiety, depression, divorce, strokes and heart attacks—when our doctors are forced to work 80, 100, even 120 hours per week—that’s two to three full-time jobs! Criminal in Japan where companies are held liable for suicides when employees work just 60 hours per week.
Now doctors are standing up against the abuse. So hospitals are retaliating with FORCED WELLNESS on the overworked. With mandatory 6 am sleep deficiency lectures (after 24-hour shifts!) and mandatory resilience training for military doctors with crayons and adult coloring books.
FYI: Appointing Chief Wellness Officers while perpetrating abuse is like putting a Band-Aid on a ruptured aorta. Enough burnout bullshit guys. Claim responsibility for human rights violations at your medical institution. Stop abusing your staff. Then apologize to victims (and their families). If you’re being abused, please leave your abuser (who may in fact be your burnout coach keeping you caged in your cubicle).
How to stop human rights violations in medicine
Human rights are universal moral principles that apply to the treatment of all human beings no matter sex, ethnicity, religion, culture—or profession. These are basic freedoms and standards of human behavior protected by law—both internationally and nationally—from birth until death. Sadly, these laws often do not protect medical students or doctors.
Recognize human rights violations in your medical institution and speak up against unsafe and inhuman work hours (> 60 hours/week), sexual harassment, bullying, food/water deprivation, sleep deprivation, hazing, racism, censorship and lack of freedom of speech, intimidation, and prohibition of peaceful assembly after a physician suicide (to name a few).
Since 2012, I’ve been running a physician suicide helpline and have spoken to thousands of physicians suffering from occupationally-induced anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts as a result of chronic human rights violations—and lack of access to mental health support in a profession that involves constant exposure to suffering and death.
What physicians need now
Protection by labor laws standard in other industries including mandatory meal and bathroom breaks
Protection by the Americans with Disabilities Act including immediate removal of invasive mental health questions on applications for state licensure, hospital privileges, and insurance credentialing.
Access to non-punitive mental health care to prevent occupationally induced lifelong mental health sequelae from chronic exposure to death and suffering.
Protection under the Unites States Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and a right to peacefully assemble—especially in the aftermath of a physician suicide.