This FREE audiobook of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered, read by the author Dr. Pamela Wible, is dedicated to all medical students, to every child who has ever dreamed of being a doctor, and to all those who have lost their lives in pursuit of healing others. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY. You may save a life. (Press download arrow below playbar for your free copy).
I lost both men I dated in medical school to suicide. In just over a year we lost three physicians in my town to suicide. I was once a suicidal doctor myself. Thankfully, I survived to tell my story—and to share a secret that has been hidden from public view for more than a century.
Nobody likes to talks about how many of our doctors are jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.
The high rate of physician suicide—first reported in 1858—has been shrouded in secrecy. Tragically, my own medical profession has a track record of apathy and inaction. In fact, nobody has been tracking these suicides. So I started keeping a list of suspicious deaths among doctors in my diary. I’ve now compiled more than 400 confirmed cases of medical student and physician suicide.
I never went looking for suicides. These suicides found me (likely because I’m so outraged and obsessed that I can’t stop writing and speaking about these deaths). Since 2012, I’ve been running a free physician suicide hotline from my home. Why? Because people keep calling me. Parents grieving the loss of their children to suicide in medical school. Residents struggling to make it through their shifts. And I keep getting letters from doctors all across the globe who are contemplating killing themselves.
You may be wondering why so many people who want to help people are killing themselves. That’s why I wrote this book. Below, in their own words, a few excerpts:
Pamela, As a physician who spent a year in residency avoiding walking next to busy streets, parking on the bottom of the garage, and refusing to have any medications in my house because I knew that I could, at any moment, use them as a means to escape, I thank you for your articles. I recognize that it’s hard for many non-physicians to “feel bad” for doctors—we are seen as privileged. Many of us are egotistical. All of us are fallible. And, like everyone else, all of us are capable of plummeting to the depths of hell quickly and of feeling like there is no escape. ~ Maureen
Dear Pamela, I suspect that you would be hard-pressed to find one of us who isn’t at least sometimes suicidal. We’re just not allowed to admit it as it would end our careers. ~ James
Pamela, The decision to go to medical school was wrong. The idea that I could use the talents I have been blessed with to make a difference was a sham. I am called obscene names on satisfaction surveys by patients for not filling their prescriptions for narcotics/tranquilizers/amphetamines; called to task by supervisors for my arrogance at adhering to medical standards of care; and drowning in debt I can’t escape by bankruptcy. I am in the process of stacking my life insurance to adequately care for my wife and children. I know how and where. Knowing I am not alone does not change things. ~ Dylan
Dear Pamela, I’m a physician in the UK and things here appear to be the same [as in the US]. I have several colleagues who have committed suicide over the years, and I feel lucky to have survived myself. I am particularly disturbed by the prevalence of PTSD among colleagues. Yes indeed I was traumatized in medical school and it continues to happen, but we get accustomed to it—to the point of becoming an abused class. ~ Christian
Dear Pamela, I was happy, secure, and mostly unafraid until med school. I recall in vivid detail the first orientation day. Our anatomy professor stood before an auditorium filled with 125 eager, nervous, idealistic would-be healers and said these words: “If you decide to commit suicide, do it right so you do not become a burden to society.” He then described in anatomical detail how to commit suicide. I have often wondered how many auditoriums full of new students heard those words from him. I am sure someone stood in front of us and told us what a wonderful and rewarding profession we had chosen. I do not remember those words. But I do remember how to successfully commit suicide—with a gun. ~Anna
Wounds often begin in medical school when our gifted student doctors are placed in cut-throat competition, pitted against one another for survival, forced to submit to antiquated fear-driven teaching methods.
Dear Dr. Wible, I’m not sure you read your [Facebook] messages but feel compelled to thank you. I was finishing term two of med school and had a bottle of Xanax in my hand. I was ready, as so many of us are. I took three then three more and came across this link, “How to graduate medical school without killing yourself,” which I believe may have saved my life and a couple of close friends who are also suffering. I’m near the top of my class and praying for death to escape the trap I’m locked into. I was in true delirium from lack of sleep and fear of failure. Studying in my sleep and waking up every hour in panic. Med school is doable but why must it be taught in this format? I read your stories and I’m just in shock how many others feel like I do or I feel like they do. Please keep sharing. You are saving lives, friend. ~ Chris
Not all have happy endings. I also receive letters from families who have lost their brilliant, compassionate children during medical school. And suicides are not isolated to student doctors.
Pamela, I am not surprised at the number of suicides among medical practitioners. I was a nurse for years and went back to school to be a physician assistant. There is so much abuse handed out in training. At the time I was in school, we still had some thirty-six hour shifts. It was difficult. At least at the university that I attended they had a buddy program. All of the first-year students were given a third-year student to help show us around and be a mentor. The problem was that before we even started our first classes, my mentor committed suicide. She was in her car on her way home still close to the hospital when she stopped at a red light then picked up a gun and shot herself in the head. The person behind her was a physician at the hospital. These things are not that unusual. It’s a sad state of affairs. ~ Patricia
These deaths also impact patients. Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide. Physician suicide is a public heath crisis. Yet patients rarely learn the truth—the real reason they can’t see their doctors ever again.
Dear Pamela, I am still in a state of shock hearing that my brilliant, loving, compassionate, successful, well-respected, honest, hard-working physician committed suicide this past week. Pressure from the changing medical community and insurance [system] had forced him to close his thirty-year practice and he went home and shot himself in the head. The letters keep coming in of how many people loved him, were healed by him, and admired him. What a tragic end to a successful career. Everyone is asking why. He was the best of the best, surgeon and specialist, nice home, nice family and now he is gone. Totally tragic. ~ Diana
I’ve been told to stop talking about suicides. I’ve been told I’m sensationalizing these deaths, that my headlines are all wrong, that I’m not following media guidelines. I’ve been told that I don’t have the proper credentials to run a suicide hotline and that I’m just doing this to make money. I’ve been shunned, ignored—even disinvited as the featured speaker by the largest medical association in America when they discovered that I would be talking about doctor suicides. Lots of people wish I would just go away. Or shut up. For the record, I have no intention of stopping.
Please join me in shining a light on the physician suicide epidemic.
View movie trailer and pledge your support to the forthcoming documentary Do No Harm.
Pamela Wible, M.D., is the author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. View her TEDMED talk Why doctors kill themselves. Need to talk? Contact Dr. Wible.
Thank you Dr. Wible for your courage and persistent efforts to expose this epidemic, the tragedy of losses from suicide AND the even greater risks and consequences of impaired health care providers who are struggling with depression, PTSD, hopelessness, lack of resources and stigma.
Thank you Paula. No intention of stopping until we can end the suicide epidemic.
Your posts are beyond wonderful, Pamela! Thank you for ALL the passion you have to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Oh thank you Robert! You made my day 😉 Sometimes I’m not sure how many people read them. Let me know what you think of the audiobook.
The morality of the 20th century was starkly portrayed in a book entitled Darkness at Noon. The author calls the ethic “Christian,” but it is more appropriate to say “humane.” The suicide epidemic by my fellow physicians is properly described as a vivisection morality. Life is treated as meaningless, for the very people for whom life has become their profession. Now that we live in a new millennium, let us choose to dignify life, rather than accommodate death.
“There are only two conceptions of human ethics and they are at opposite poles.
One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be
sacrosanct and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units.
The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb.”
Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon 1940
“Vivisection morality.” Great term for what is impairing all physicians.
Interesting term. Never heard about . Thank you
Great , Thank you Steve .
Wow…thank you for speaking out about perhaps the last worst taboo, that of suicidal thoughts and actions. We need to have more conversations and openness to this public health crisis, to remove the stigma and open access to useful treatment of this medical condition. Keep doing just what you’re doing; please.
I will Patrick. I definitely will. Love to know what you think of the audiobook. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY.
I might not like to give credit to another religion, but what this guy has to say is valuable, period: “if you’re going to, do it right–not with a gun or rope, but by cutting all ties to your previous life, and going in another direction.” You can be a mechanic, or a concrete technician. But kill off your old life, without stopping the breath of life.
Website below is the one I mention, not mine. I still have the command of Christ tied to my life.
Thank you so much Dr. Wible. You are definitely making a difference. I first came to know of your devotion when my niece, Kaitlyn, who was in medical school committed suicide a few years ago. You have never given up the fight. It is so comforting to know there is a doctor with such human compassion. Thanks again…words can not express the gratitude! I am looking forward to listening to your audio book.
Oh you are in the audiobook. I read your letter in there. <3 I will never stop what I am doing to save these beautiful compassionate souls. Let me know what you think of the book after you listen to it. Hugs, Pamela
I’m so glad you exist, Pamela! I’m not a physician, but I’ve had many due to the fact that I had polio when I was two years old. Some frightened me because they were “mean” to me, but I’ve always had excellent doctors. I cannot imagine how tortured many of them must be to commit suicide in the numbers you report. How very tragic that skilled and dedicated (or even mediocre) medical professionals decide to end their lives!
Again, thank you for your empathy and perseverance in speaking out for doctors! I have shared your work with others and will continue to do so.
Thanks Janine! Here if you need me . . . (and feel free to let doctors and other health professionals know there IS help)
Dear Dr. Pamela: I am not sure how to get my doctor to listen better. I realize that he is being “rushed” in the appointments, perhaps because of insurance regulations on how much time he can spend, but in my case with mitochondrial myopathy, and multi-system involvement, I am the “complex” patient. Your suggestions are always appreciated. Best regards,
You need to find a doctor in a relationship-driven (rather than a production-driven clinic). More here on how to get your needs met: https://www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/7-steps-to-get-what-you-need-from-your-doctor-fast/
Pamela , you made history by bringing up this issue . Thank you .
Happy to do my part to end the coverup.
First of all thank you for your courage, dedication and faithfulness to what I would refer to as your true calling.
Reading about Physician suicides recently, I came across your efforts. I applaud you.
I am not a physician, but in the last six months, I have experienced with my own PCP, a stark difference in his manner. He seems distracted, rather than listening, a scribe was introduced into his examining room, to aid with his patient notes, I have happened to develop numerous new issues with my health that needed to be addressed. All of a sudden there has been a mixup in communication, to the point where I went to a walk in two times because I didn’t get a phone call answered. Because of scheduling, my care has been with the APRN who has been more engaged and yet I still feel there was more I needed to discuss. At my last visit, her assistant asked why I was in and I mentioned a shot and had 2 questions. She said are you sure you are only going to ask 2 questions? I thought if she was bringing her mother, you would be quite sure, all her mother’s questions would be answered. The APRN noticed I was upset and took her time, ending with, ” has every question been answered?” An Insurance Nurse said to me ” welcome to Health Care “. I don’t know why but her statement jolted me. I sadi to my husband what has happened to DR _.?He is not the same person as he was before. Addiction of all kinds crossed my mind…but wow, who knows. I pray that he can make peace with whatever has caused it. whether insurance, stress etc. Maybe he can take an early retirement. It is just not worth destroying someone’s life.
Too many cooks in the kitchen and docs are losing what they love most—relationships with patients—the foundation of great medical care. Emphasis on CARE.
Patient L Jane, Your doctor still cares about you in spite of too many stupid outside mandates hurting the direct relationships you had in past years. You might connect w your old doctor better if you saw that office for your walk in visits rather than the outpatient miniclinic. Or at least inform your doctors’ office in writing about what happened at the miniclinic, and schedule an earlier follow up visit with your home team asap. In all, save your own significant medical documents on paper as a home medical file, because the computer jibberish is less helpful for you than plain English words describing your health situation. Patients should be strong advocates for yourselves and your own key medical records.
Dear Dr.Pamela…I already made a comment that was awaiting moderation…I continued to browse and looked at links that reported that Chris Dawson had also killed his children. I did not catch that the first time. That news really hit me even harder.
I actually did read about a Dr killing his young children with the first piece I read but thought it was referring to an altogether different doctor.
It is obvious from what I wrote, I wrote unaware of the whole tragedy.
Still appreciating what you are doing
Toward the end of her second year of med school, my daughter started talking about how many physicians and med students commit suicide. I asked her point blank if it was something she was considering. She denied thoughts of suicide, but I found myself and still do keep a keen eye and ear on her appearance and discussions, watching for any sign of depression/anxiety. None so far. She is about to enter residency and I’ll still be watchful. Thanks for keeping this topic out in the open.
Dear Dr. Wible,
I just finished listening to your book, which made me very emotional. I want to thank you for shining your light brightly and helping so many.
I stumbled across information of your upcoming movie screening in NYC on Facebook. I am not in the medical field and neither is anyone in my immediate family. I am, however, aware of the strain and burden of being a medical professional. The sister of one of my best friends went through a suicidal period following a severe physical and mental burn-out after the death of one of her oncology patients, for which she was held responsible.
Your book has given me deeper empathy and compassion for those we so often expect to be infallible and strong.
I have a 4-grade daughter who dreams of becoming a doctor and I am, to he honest, horrified at the thought that her idealism and spirit may be broken while she pursues that dream.
I hope and pray that a change and healing can come to the system of healthcare education and the whole medical field.
Thank you again for all you are doing to make this change happen.
Love to have you join us in NYC. Could still come under family & friends (even if not a med professional): http://donoharmfilm.com/
My best friend (20 plus years) who is a an MD sent this to me as after I told him he has PTSD, after a very malignant residency. He talked and I listened. We talked about how bullying is bullying. He is a compassionate and lovely human being who has lost part of himself after that residency, program. We talked about self-care.
I have been horrified to learn that self care is barely taught during medical school if at all. Not at all during residency. It needs to change. Helpers need to learn this. It is taught and reinforced for psychology and counseling students. Especially counseling students.
Residency and medical school has to change. It also needs to change for nursing as well. I appreciate you writing this and will be sharing this.
Totally agree. And beyond self-care we certainly must eradicate the rampant human rights violations in medical training & practice. Thank you for caring. Please keep an eye on your physician friend.
I could not agree with you more and I am even more greatful that fate led us to be in the same area during his residency. I will keep an eye on him.
I will also be sharing your link and audiable this with other counselors and those entering the counseling field. Thank you and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.
Hi Dr. Wible! I hope you’re doing well. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for all the work you’ve done, especially your audiobook, Physician Suicide Letters Answered.
A bit of background; I’m a final year medical student in Pakistan, and throughout my five year journey in medicine, I’ve faced multiple issues with GAD and a panic disorder, along with depression and suicidal ideation. Working with a psychiatrist who is understanding of my situation as a medical student, my responsibilities, and my ambitions, has truly helped me along the way. But a couple of weeks back, I completely burned out in the last few months of my last year at medical school. I had just gotten back the results of a foreign medical licencing exam that I had prepared an entire year for, and sacrificed almost everything for, only to see my score was average and well below what was expected of me. I felt crushed and for a whole two months my life had felt shattered. In my worst moment, when I’d contemplated ending everything due to this loneliness, feeling that no one else really understood just how much I’d lost, I found your book and gave it a listen. And instead of losing hope and possibly my life as I’d intended, I listened to your words and the words of so many doctors before me that night. Listening to the loss of so many brilliant and wonderful people and their struggles with what I can only imagine to be greater than my own, and to those who had survived and still fight their battles with mental health to this day, it gave me a space of my own to finally feel understood, and no longer alone.
To this day I am still picking up the pieces of my life, and moving ahead in medicine, hoping to graduate soon and find my place as a physician. I hope that I can one day help in furthering your cause, of helping other medical students and doctors to get the help they need, and start a much-needed conversation about the loss of our fellow physicians to suicide that exists in every country. I hope I’m not bothering you too much as I can imagine you must be incredibly busy with your work, so thank you for everything you do.
Your work is absolutely phenomenal and necessary, and I hope there are others who are able to hear these stories and your works, to benefit the way i have.
I came across your article because my sister-in-law of 36 years put a gun to her head a few days ago and ended her life and I am hungry to find out how to effectively help others considering suicide. She was not a physician but was an RN (like myself) for 25 years. Her ordeal began with pain and ended with narcotic addiction, body failure and shame. I’m still so bewildered even though we did see her decline and tried to help. This is a new forest. I’m learning the paths, the vegetation, the wildlife and the new people on these paths.
Please contact me here and we can talk. Download this free audiobook for the backstory to these suicides (I’m sure much overlap with nursing). Then let’s talk. So sorry you lost your sister.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I read 75 percent med students are on antidepressants. I also understand that antidepressants can lead to suicide ideation and completion… 1. Could antidepressants be in part causal? 2. How are med students getting antidepressants without punitive concerns?
Sneaking them as indicated in the 75% article. https://www.idealmedicalcare.org/75-med-students-antidepressants-stimulants/
My (surgeon)ex-husband committed suicide a year ago. While I would never(totally)blame his profession,I am sure that the path healthcare has taken played at least some part of his decision. I am a nurse and we commiserated often about the frustrations with healthcare and how he in particularly, felt he was no longer in charge of how to care for patients and felt it was now being dictated to him. He often asked why he bothered to go through all of that intense preparation just to take orders from the government and other third party payers- the humanistic side of medicine is being whittled away one click at a time.
It hurts my heart to see so many physicians feeling the same way and it hurts my heart to see the path that healthcare is on-
Oh Susan can you please write me here: https://www.idealmedicalcare.org/contact/ I’d love to talk to you and we have a support group for families who lost physicians to suicide.
Wow – I’m an interior designer and I thought my career struggles were bad. This puts a lot into perspective. A good lesson for anyone who thinks money is everything and wants to be in the medical field. Thank you for sharing. I want to fight for these doctors
At this point I’m pretty certain my suicide is inevitable.
I’ve started sorting out my will and life insurance to ensure my beneficiaries will be cared for when I’m gone. The only thing holding me back is a sense of filial obligation to my mother, but I’m getting tired of living for others.
I became a physician thinking I could heal myself of an abusive childhood by healing others. I’d lived 3 years in a country at war and seen so much suffering and cruelty I convinced myself this was the way to make it right. I heard the rumours and read *House of God*, but I believed it was all just a rite of passage to the other side, where “real” healing flourished.
Now I spend all day contemplating my demise. I am disillusioned, depressed, hopeless. There is no “other side”. Such “healing” as there is, exists in a vacuum of studies and publications, and while much good comes of it, it cannot detract from the reality of a system steeped in abuse, competition and cruelty. There seems no place for the wounded healer or idealist, and I’m bone weary of being punished for being the way I am.
I have no safety net and no support. In truth, I am alone and would certainly not be missed: many more to fill your residency spot when you’re gone.
Highly recommend you reach out for help. Many resources out there as all the resources on my website & me. Never give up your precious life. Seems you could use help for your personal trauma. Signing up to care for other when YOU are the one who could use care is a classic move that many make. I pursued medicine for similar reasons.
I am listening to your book with great interest. While I was in my psychiatry residency my partner, who was an internal medicine resident, committed suicide. This has motivated me to focus on the problems of doctors and primarily psychiatrists. In Canada there is much dissatisfaction and sense of futility with this profession. The focus seems to be primarily on making a diagnosis and creating a treatment plan on a single visit. Fewer are doing follow up visits and do not seem to feel skilled enough to practice psychotherapy. They underestimate the value and power of simply listening.
Mary – agree 100%! I have so much more to share after you finish listening to the book.