Physician trauma during a pandemic

Video, audio, and downloadable MP3 above. Very brief, highly-edited text below:

I’ve heard firsthand the suffering of physicians during the past 8 years while running a free suicide helpline for doctors. Some experience trauma predating medical training. All experience trauma during medical education or in our daily lives as physicians. Few have emotional resources to cope with trauma. This podcast & video offer specific skills to prevent retraumautization during a pandemic.

A brief summary of how we respond to trauma:


Negative effects of trauma:
Flashbacks/flooding/intrusive thoughts (PTSD)/dissociation
Emotional instability
Distorted beliefs

Positive effects of trauma:
Heightened intuition
High emotional IQ
Processing and integration of past events
Increased belief in self
Improved self-confidence & independence

Triggers can be physical, emotional, sensory (sights, sounds, smell), relational emotional response, an activated memory. You might feel that you are revisiting a familiar place (dimly-lit narrow hallway) or may smell a perfume that transports you back to a traumatic scene.
Disruptors allow you to remain present in your body and avoid dissociation. Be self-protective. Avoid catastrophizing. Physically move so you can feel your body in its present state. Choose an empowering action. Don’t stay silent. Tell the truth even in a pandemic
Vicarious trauma is traumatization through hearing of trauma, suffering, death of patients (or participating in the care of suffering patients). Our empathic connection and visceral exposure allows our senses to fully participate in a traumatic encounter—even if we resist or think we can “handle it.”
Physicians often ask how I can deal with the suffering of so many colleagues who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts. Here’s what has helped me. Utilize similar strategies for yourself.
1. Support groups – I’ve started several support groups for doctors and a loss survivors group for families who have lost physicians to suicide. By having a group, individuals do not feel alone and do not face the burden of caring for others alone. Avoid generic support groups. Bigger is not necessarily better. Targeted, intimate, smaller groups (<100) may be best for sharing authentic personal thoughts.
2. Pair up – Have a mastermind partner—someone with aligned vision and purpose who shares in your struggle. Create a ritual in which you contact each other daily, weekly, by text, email, dinner dates.  The more you engage, the better. Though physical isolation may be necessary in a pandemic, emotional isolation is deadly (especially for physicians).
3. Share resources –  Conserve your energy (so you don’t have to repeat yourself over and over again) by sharing a resource like a book or PDF that can help many people at once. For example, I wrote Physician Suicide Letters—Answered to support passively suicidal doctors (and made it a FREE audiobook here).  After so many phone calls with doctors facing abuse from hazardous working conditions, I wrote Human Rights Violations in Medicine to give all my best advice in one place (rather than one-off phone calls that were less comprehensive). Predating the pandemic, many doctors were experiencing violations of their human rights—bullying, hazing, sleep deprivation—now many lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) making their working conditions more dangerous. A resident just contacted me and reports no PPE provided despite dealing with patients in isolation and leading codes on exposed patients. Resident went to Lowe’s and was given the last respirator and N95 before shift.
4. Unite – Now is the time for camaraderie. Be assertive and diplomatic when petitioning as a group for your rights as this will prevent retaliation against any one person. Now is also a great time for health professionals to use telemedicine in low-overhead practices during a pandemic. Grow your practice and serve your community by embracing innovative new models to prevent patients from clogging overwhelmed hospitals.
Need help? Have a questions? Contact Sydney Ashland or Dr. Pamela Wible. To learn more about traumatized physicians, check out Sydney’s new trauma video series.

Add your comment below or scroll down to read 2 comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


2 comments on “Physician trauma during a pandemic
  1. Rajalaxmi McKenna says:

    Am beginning to look back 25 years ago and do recognize that hyper vigilance and feeling overwhelmed and had no help , a sense of dread and “end of life” and emotional death that prevented a real response that would help oneself , and in that time frame I also figured out that my husband at that time for years apparently, had been not only chasing various women but also financially was stealing from me, none of which I was aware of , because I “trusted ” my husband , and reality was the opposite. There were times he was also close to physical abuse and I had to threaten him about my calling the police (all the time thinking about the shame it would bring to my children ) . He was as narcissistic as one could be and I never recognized that.

    -I also recognized many years ago that I had and have PTSD due to the abuse by Chairman of Medicine my primary department at the same time I had this abusive spouse at home and had young children to protect and care for

    I did not realise that I had to “protect” myself–that thought never occurred –so important
    I tried to read poetry like Mary Oliver that brings peace and quiet and anture

    also your advice to join hands so one is not targeted

    unfortunately my experience is that one cannot trust people in administration in any system –MDs are to be “used “; and demeaned now in comparison with other “health care providers” ; cooperation is good but leveling the field to degrade an MD is a planned pre meditated approach of administrators to make patients think tat all care providers are equal in terms of medical background and expertise

    I was always told that good things happen to good people and good behaviour is always rewarded ! That discrepancy took me > 15 years to understand that I did not bring on this bad behaviour by others and not responsible for their bad behaviour. Many coworkers abandoned me and actually even betrayed me ,so have to be cautious

    Today the internet provides so many resources

    Thank you so much ; see some ideas I grabbed on to

    The pearls in just one Nobel prize acceptance speech–Albert Camus

    “—-the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.” from Albert Camus’ Nobel prize acceptance speech
    ​an artist’s duty his own view “–the service of truth and the service of liberty.”

    “–art must not compromise with lies and servitude” Medicine is an art

  2. We need the medical board to waive the fees for all the health care providers this year, let’s all campaign and relief some of financial stress on doctoilrs

Click here to comment



Copyright © 2011-2022 Pamela Wible MD     All rights reserved worldwide     site design by Pamela Wible MD and