Susan lost her doctor to suicide. She wants to know why.

Susan Kreischer is one in a million.

One of a million Americans to lose their doctor to suicide—each year.

She is still devastated years later.

“I had awful back pain—was barely walking when I met Dr. Ortiz and right away we bonded. Every time I went in, he’d give me a huge bear hug, lifting me off the floor (and I’m a heavy woman). He always had a big smile on his face. He was it. He was the man. He didn’t just hand me another pill. He actually got in there and solved my problems.”

Dr. Ortiz was a man who never gave up on his patients.

“Later when I had more back problems, he said I’d need my hip fused and he’d look for another surgeon since that wasn’t a procedure he was familiar with. Next time I saw him he told me that he didn’t find anyone he could trust so he was going to do it himself—and that’s exactly what he did. He learned that procedure for me! I was in awe that he did that for me.”

Staff in the operating room were in awe as well. Nobody could believe how perfectly Dr. Ortiz performed her fusion.

“I saw that man five times in a day and a half in the hospital, plus he went to see me another four or five times when I was in recovery. He called me every night at home to make sure I was okay—and I was.”

Susan wonders how she’ll ever replace him.

“I don’t trust other orthopedic doctors around here. I had some very bad experiences. I had so much faith in Dr. Ortiz because I knew he was being truthful—giving me his honest opinion. I adored him. He was a saint to me. He took so much of my pain away. He changed my life.”

Now all Susan has left of her doctor is this picture she snapped of a framed photo that hangs in the hallway of the hospital where he once worked.

Dr. Ortiz was clearly one of the most thoughtful, compassionate, and ethical men one could ever hope to meet—especially when needing back surgery.

Once when Ortiz was on a vacation, his patient became sick and Ortiz flew home early to take care of her. What kind of surgeon does that?

A patient case was cancelled one day because the hospital did not secure an assistant for the surgery. However the patient had already been sedated with Versed to calm her anxiety so she couldn’t drive home. Ortiz held her hand and explained the situation to her. He then decided to drive her home in her car more than an hour away. He took a cab all the way back to the hospital.

Who was Steven Ortiz?

As a child, Steve was a hard worker who put all his efforts into school. His teachers were impressed by his intelligence. He never got into trouble, always did his homework and turned in all his assignments without prodding from his parents.

Steve had beautiful blue eyes and at a very young age he starting receiving unsolicited attention from older women. One day, after a doctor’s appointment, he was thirsty so he asked his mom to buy a drink. She parked in front of a store and gave him a dollar. He came back out with his drink and handed his mom the dollar. Steve told her that the lady in the store said, “I have beautiful blue eyes and I don’t need to pay.”

“We marched back into that store and told the woman he had to pay for his drink and he did,” says his mom. “Oh the trouble he could have gotten into with those eyes.”

Though we never met, I feel I know Steve Ortiz. Maybe it’s because he grew up down the street from me in Eugene, Oregon. He attended Sheldon High School where he played on the football team and never lost a game. He kept up his grades and was an all-around good kid.

After high school, Steve was a sprinkler fitter for 10 years, then became a fire sprinkler engineer for his father’s company. He also worked in construction. One day at work he stepped off a curb and tore his meniscus. He had surgery immediately and on follow-up when the doctor showed him his x-ray he almost passed out and had to be helped to sit down by the nurse. He literally couldn’t stand looking at his own x-ray.

He returned to school at 28 earning a chemistry degree from Fullerton Community College then a full scholarship to UC Irvine and Stanford Medical School before completing orthopedic residency in New York and spine surgery fellowship in Minneapolis—19 years of medical education!

Despite the demands of nearly two decades of medical training, Steve never forgot birthdays, holidays, or special occasions. He moved his family to Stanford for medical school just before his daughter turned 13. She hadn’t made many friends so she didn’t know how to celebrate her birthday. On her birthday her dad came home and told her he rented the entire medical school auditorium for the afternoon and he invited her whole soccer team to watch a movie and help her celebrate. He even rented a popcorn machine and bought everyone candy.

Steve Ortiz and his children

“He was very observant, always watching, always listening, and always learning,” says his daughter Alyssa. “Once I saw a string of pearls in a picture and I commented that they were very beautiful. I never said I wanted them. A few months later a package came in the mail with the same type of pearls. These surprises happened many times in my life. He was a wonderful man.”

Yet Steve—such a devoted family man—had to sacrifice relationships with the very people he loved the most so he could help heal others. With his kids and wife finally settled in California, he was distraught having matched in New York for orthopedics. During his five years of residency he only got to see his kids once per year. That marriage eventually failed and he remarried a woman who wanted to be near her family in Florida. So, of course, Steve agreed. (With loved ones he had trouble saying no!) So after fellowship, he set up his practice in a Florida hospital where he was adored by patients and staff.

“I want you to know the nurses were drooling over this man. The nurses always said, ‘He is so hot!’ and once I even tried to hook him up with my daughter,” claims Susan Kreischer. “I told Dr. Ortiz, ‘If you ever need any jewelry for someone special, let me know. I make jewelry.’” For Susan, he was more than a doctor; he was her friend.

In the aftermath of his suicide, I’ve received a constant stream of emails from his patients, colleagues, even his college girlfriend. They all want me to know what a truly special man he was.

Kind and generous, Steve helped anyone who needed it. He showed up at a colleague’s house unannounced when she was moving. He brought boxes, tape, wrapping paper, and marking pens and spent his weekend helping her move.

When not attending to patients, Steve adventured in the outdoors. He was a certified scuba diver, a hunter, a motorcycle enthusiast, a fisherman, he even hurt his knee again skateboarding around Florida. Yet his top priority was always caring for his patients.

Typical of doctors, Steve spent his time helping others and rarely asked for help.

Working 80-100 hours each week, surgeons often experience marital distress, and divorce is not uncommon. Back when I was in medical school, surgical residency programs bragged about having 100% divorce rates—as if total devotion to the surgical profession and absence of any personal life would make the best doctor.

Steve did confide in Sherry Cleveland, his surgical nurse. “He called me the annoying little sister he never had because we would goof off and pick on each other during OR days,” says Sherry. “He was in the midst of his second divorce and the Friday before his death he came out with a bunch of us and stayed longer than usual. We were talking about doing the VIP area at the brewery. He was very popular with the ladies and we joked about hosting a ‘Date Dr. Ortiz’ event there. He laughed. When he left he hugged tighter and longer than he ever had before.”

The most unforgettable story about Steve—the ultimate fix-it-guy—is the way he dealt with the giant pothole in the hospital parking lot. No spine surgeon wants patients bouncing up and down in potholes. Since the hospital didn’t have a plan to repair it, Dr. Ortiz went to the hardware store, bought several bags of cement and gravel and he fixed it himself early one morning—before a full day of surgery.

Imagine a sweaty spine surgeon repairing potholes on the hot Florida asphalt before scrubbing in for his next case.

Yet Steve’s problems with the hospital were deeper than parking lot potholes. Due to irreconcilable differences with hospital leadership, Dr. Ortiz was considering moving on to another practice.

Everything changed on Tuesday morning, February 7, 2017, when Steve got a phone call in the doctors’ lounge. Staff said he was white as a ghost and he must have been threatened or something. Nobody knows what happened on that phone call.

He then texted Sherry Cleveland asking for her personal email address. She thought that was strange.

That evening at 5:00 pm, he called his mother for the last time. He told her, “They are greedy; that’s all they care about.” His mom said he was very upset.

Steve Ortiz and his mom Gloria

During that 30-minute call, he shared the challenges he faced every day. His mom knew none of his struggles prior to that conversation.

He had already planned it.

On Wednesday, February 8, Sherry Cleveland got up for work shortly after 4:00 am. Though she doesn’t usually check her email, she thought Steve might have sent her something. His goodbye letter arrived at 12:09 am. She was in her bathroom getting ready for work when she read it:

Sherry was numb. In her heart she knew what it meant. But she was hoping it wasn’t true. She emailed Dr. Ortiz and asked if he was moving back to California. “Please tell me you’re okay. Please respond to me,” she wrote. Sherry wanted to call him, but was afraid she was going to wake him up. She didn’t want to wake her husband up, so she finished getting ready for work.

Sherry rushed to the hospital and pulled into the parking lot just after 5:00 am when she saw the police cars.

“I was on the phone with one of my really good friends, because I just needed to talk to someone. When I saw the lights, I was numb. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do. I went to work that day, because I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to go home and be by myself, but I really just didn’t know what to do. I was shocked because out of everyone that he worked with, everyone that he knew, I was that person that he felt comfortable enough with to share that information, and to tell me, and have me be his messenger to let everyone know that he appreciated us, and goodbye.”

Dr. Ortiz was found dead in his truck.

Wednesday morning at 2:00 am, Steve Ortiz checked in on all his patients and wrote orders to make sure they were okay. At approximately 3:00 am, he went out to the hospital parking lot where he repaired the pothole, sat down in his truck, and shot himself in the heart.

Steve’s dad and brother flew to Florida. His dad met with another doctor who said he was struggling with the same issues as his son. That doctor, like Steve, felt bullied—pulled into all sorts of illegal shenanigans that undermined the care of his patients.

In the aftermath of Steve’s suicide, flyers were taped on hospital walls naming three doctors responsible for his death and demanding justice for Dr. Ortiz. When removed, new flyers were taped back up. This continued for a month until a doctor was caught affixing them to the walls.

“He was 47 when he finished his fellowship and was very naïve having spent most of his life in school,” says his mom Gloria. “Steve was glad his training was over so he could be a real doctor. He felt alone in Florida. He had only been out of training for three years and was very disillusioned. He was not a quitter. He just could not deal with the corruption at his age.”

I first learned of Dr. Ortiz when an online Florida news headline reported a possible suicide of a local surgeon found deceased at a hospital. The article became an online tribute to Steve’s life and death with more than 155 comments from adoring patients (and curious citizens) wanting to know why a successful orthopedic surgeon would be found dead in a hospital parking lot. One woman commented:

“I called his office this morning to schedule an appointment with Dr. O. for my husband when I was told he was no longer with the practice. They would not give me any information. I found [this article] on Google just few minutes ago. If it were not for your report I would not have known. I am so saddened with this news of his loss. He was such a wonderful caring doctor.”

Others were furious with the journalist for reporting on the suicide of Dr. Ortiz: “I think it is disgraceful and disrespectful that this is blasted all over the web. This is not responsible news reporting or journalism; it is potentially hurtful gossip that has not been confirmed by any agency.”

Some argue that it is nobody’s business why Dr. Ortiz died. Others are still searching for answers years later.

The fact is without a proper investigation of his suicide, people will remain confused—many like Susan grieving in isolation.

Yet Dr. Ortiz is one of tens of thousands of doctors trapped in corrupt US health systems, caught between for-profit insurers, unethical administrators, and shareholders demanding maximum profit extraction from the sickest, most vulnerable patients. Physicians are the extraction device.

Without a proper investigation of the corruption leading to this surgeon’s suicide, there is no way to protect patients or prevent the next doctor suicide.

After posting a comment on the article, I got a call from Steve’s mom. We spoke for hours. I asked if she wanted to connect with an Emmy-winning filmmaker so her son could be honored in the forthcoming film, Do No Harm—a documentary exposing the doctor suicide crisis that ends with a scrolling list of nearly 100 names and photos of doctors we’ve lost to suicide. Dr. Steven Ortiz is now one of them.

News reports are an anomaly in the aftermath of a doctor suicide in the United States. Most are just a paragraph or two. The “article” on Dr. Ortiz was just 133 words. Reporters (as in Dr. Ortiz’s case) promise to “bring more on this story as it develops.” They never do. I have never seen a follow-up story or a detailed investigation into any of these physician suicides since I began tracking them in 2012. I now have 1,243 doctor suicides on a confidential registry—all cases that I’ve personally investigated since nobody in the media or medicine seems willing to launch an honest investigation into why so many of our doctors are dying by suicide.

High doctor suicide rates have been reported since 1858—and seem to be accelerating. Yet more than 160 years later the root causes of these suicides remain uninvestigated and unaddressed.

Of my 1,243 cases, I’ve learned that for every woman who dies by suicide in medicine, we lose four men.

Male surgeons are the second highest risk group after male anesthesiologists. Many are found dead at hospitals. Doctors jump from hospital windows or rooftops. They shoot or stab themselves in hospital parking lots. They’re found hanging in hospital chapels. Physicians often choose to die where they’ve been wounded.

Doctors choose suicide to end their pain (not because they want to die). Suicide is preventable. We can help doctors who are suffering if we stop suicide secrecy and censorship.

Medical institutions lie (or omit the truth) to cover up suicides—even when media and family report the cause of death. Instead we hear euphemisms such as “passed away unexpectedly.”

Ignoring doctor suicides leads to more doctor suicides.

Steve is just one of the 1,243 doctors I know who have died by suicide.

Sadly, the original article about his death is no longer live on the Internet.

I’m beyond appalled at the lack of investigation of these suicides.

One month after his death, Susan called the office for an appointment. “I was told that would not be possible. Then the person on the phone said, ‘He passed.’”

“Excuse me. What did you say?” asked Susan.

“Dr. Ortiz has passed away.”

“I started crying hysterically,” Susan explains. “I kept asking, ‘What happened to him?’”

“We don’t know. We think it was an accident,” the receptionist said.

Susan kept crying.

The receptionist kept saying how sorry she was.

“I found out later they lied to me. They knew what happened to my doctor. I was completely devastated that nobody called me before to let me know. I need to know what would make such a wonderful and successful doctor feel that suicide was his only way out. I don’t understand why he was put in such an awful position. People should be held responsible for what they’ve done to him. I hope they will be. I just wish that you had been around before my doctor died. I really think you could’ve helped him.”

Susan’s sentiment is shared by Steve’s mom. “Since his death I have thought several times that had he been able to go to an advocates group for help or talk to someone like you that he may have lived, but apparently there wasn’t any help available to him.”

Since 2012, I’ve offered a free physician suicide helpline. Click here for help.

Susan still remembers his final words.

During my last appointment I begged, “Please don’t ever give up on me.” He looked at me and smiled. “I won’t give up on you. I’ll be here for you.”

“When I found out about you, Dr. Wible, I was in heaven. I thought maybe I can find out what really happened to my doctor,” Susan said.

Why would such a beloved orthopedic surgeon die by suicide?

Dr. Ortiz couldn’t play the game of corruption—harming patients for profit. He asked other physicians for help—even met with the Hospital Board of Directors—and he was told he should just “go with the flow.” He sought out government officials and the FBI. He never heard back from them. He explored in his own head all the options (and documented it all). He was at a dead end. Exhausted, he saw no solution. He would rather “tap out” than play the game by someone else’s rules. He was not depressed. He was frustrated, pissed, and stuck. His suicide was well-planned. He was a truth teller and was biting his tongue just to survive. Dr. Ortiz died as a whistleblower. He gave it his best shot. He truly felt that his suicide was the only way to draw attention to—and end —the corruption.

Justice for Dr. Ortiz?

Absent an investigation by authorities, with legal repercussions and penalties, the status quo continues.

“I used to like to drive by and see Dr. Ortiz’s car in the parking lot,” says Susan. “After he died, they left his truck there for three months. People would leave flowers. Now when I drive by I can’t look at the place. I went to get my wrist looked at and It was hard being there. We would wave to each other through the glass door. I sat there and I didn’t see his smiling face. I kept looking expecting to see him. He did not deserve what he got. I am disgusted with the way this absolutely gifted surgeon was treated.”

Steve’s first wife, a fundraiser at Stanford, is trying to start a program about doctors like Steve. Medical institutions are starting to finally grasp the severity of our doctor suicide crisis.

“I don’t even do spine cases anymore, because I just can’t,” says Sherry Cleveland. “I can’t be in the room. I can’t. It hurts too bad. I see certain things or think certain things and I have to walk away, because it’s painful.”

The Do No Harm documentary honoring Dr. Steve Ortiz is now on an international film tour screening at health systems and film festivals.

I continue to investigate doctor suicides in between attending to my own patients.

As for Susan, it’s been more than two years and she still has no doctor.

In 2019, one million more Americans like Susan will wonder why they can’t see their doctor.

* * *
More investigative journalism on our physician suicide crisis by Dr. Wible:
What I’ve learned from 1,243 doctor suicides
33 orthopaedic surgeon suicides. How to prevent #34.
Award-winning NPR interview on doctor suicide
Physician Suicide Letters—Answered

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71 comments on “Susan lost her doctor to suicide. She wants to know why.
  1. Susan Kreischer says:

    Thank you so much you have done a wonderful article and I feel you really understand how I felt about him. I was in awe of Steve Ortiz for his gentle kindness.I truly wish he could have known you, I’m honored to have been in the article and without you on our side, we would not have known the truth.

    I believe Steve will have justice even if it takes years and it will be due to you. You have given me
    the answers I so needed to move on. He truly was a friend, my husband I and considered him
    part of our family. That was how he made us both feel. I hope to meet you someday. If you ever come to Florida please let me know.

    I am awe of you what you have done for me! You really are a saint! Steve would have liked you.

    Thank you So much!!!

    Much LoVe

    Susan

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Susan thank you for reaching out to me. Public outrage will lead to media coverage and more investigations of these suicides. Your doctor is such a sweetheart. I’m ever hopeful! So very sorry that I could not have met Steve and hooked him up with some great attorneys and support. The legal system should be drooling all over cases like this. Nobody should be placed in a such a desperate situation alone. For anyone else out there suffering as Steve was, please know there is help. Don’t take your precious life. Contact me.

  2. Please keep this story life. Justice must be realized. Please let Dr Ortiz’s sacrifice find its purpose.

  3. Sherry says:

    A great loss to the medical community. He was a caring and honest surgeon that would do anything to ensure his patients received the best care possible. His love for his patients was beyond measure.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thank you for being open, vulnerable, and courageous. I’m sure Dr. Ortiz is eternally grateful you came into his life. All he has now is us, our memories, our words, our demands for justice. I love this man and I never even met him.

    • susan a kreischer says:

      Hi Sherry
      Were you his nurse?

      • Sherry cleveland says:

        Yes Susan. I worked with him in the OR every week. I remember you. I was there for that particular case.

  4. Autumn says:

    I am crying and I never met this doctor. We put these folks through 12+ years of grueling training and then it doesn’t end, we go on treating them like machines and we assume they are wealthy doctors so they can golf on Wednesday even though that’s not usually true anymore.

    My ADHD closed this door for me, and now I thank my lucky stars because the way we treat these folks would have destroyed me too.

    Part of the reason people don’t talk about completed suicides is that it’s still considered shameful. The other reason is a misplaced fear of copycat suicides. The press still goes by that bad idea.

    Institutions try not to talk about suicide because they know, in their heart of hearts that it is shame, shame on their broken systems. Keep pushing.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks Autumn. Premedical students are never given informed consent about the mental health risks of pursuing medicine—the career with the highest suicide rate of any profession. I could go on. Please view this video, a public service announcement regarding the real risks of a medical education—Surgeon General’s Warning: Medical school may kill your child.

      • Lori Smith says:

        One of the most amazing things I experienced from nursing when I was struggling through the total exhaustion of residency was the repeated statement/challenge: “Well, you knew what you were getting into!” That statement continues to dumbfound me. I was 17 when I started medical school, which was akin to 6 years of non-stop medical bootcamp. Residency was worse. I am so thankful that my children have steered clear of medical school.

        • Pamela Wible MD says:

          There is zero informed consent of mental health risks of a health care profession. I NEVER knew when I entered medicine that doctor had a high suicide rate. No class. No blackbox warning. And BOTH my parents are doctors. I NEVER heard of physician PTSD until I started reporting on it a few years ago. Terrible mental health impacts to all health professionals in trauma surgery, emergency medicine, even OB with maternal deaths. We need on-the-job support not corruption.

  5. susan a kreischer says:

    Thank Pam! This a wonderful memorial to a very gifted surgeon, and such a gentle kindness as a Doctor and Person. I miss him so much, my husband wanted see him for his back also. We love you Doc rest RIP! I beileve that your caring will help someday to get awesome doctor justice. You’re a wonderful lady. I know I posted already but I really wanted to let you know how you have made my life better

    much love and admiration

    Susan

  6. Scott O'Connor says:

    In the article it summed it up,he was a kind compassionate man who cared about his patients,***he knew the new medical system is a sham,no one cares eccept for money n covering there own ass..I’m very sorry for your loss,i been in terrible pain n no one cares n I’m thinking snuffing myself cause it’s only getting worse n I’m not going to be a street drug user to help my pain..10 MRIs,ct scans,they get paid I get bills n cold shoulders.. god bless anyone w a heart cause not many left…very sad times to be kinda alive….rip to all who gave in n suffered like my brother who took his life in June..rip my brother 1967-2018… Thanks for your story..

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      So sorry to hear about your brother. Was he a doctor?

    • Barb says:

      I’m so sorry. I understand your position and read this the way you did. I’m SPECULATING that the hospital limited how Dr. Ortiz could treat post surgical pain. It’s limited to 3 days in Florida and then must be managed by a pain mgmt Physician.

      I’m in Florida and feel your pain.

      I shared this with the pain community and someone referred to it as Dr. Ortiz suffering a Moral Injury by watching his patients suffer and unable to help them.

      The CDC GUIDELINES are killing thousands of innocent people. The RXs for opiates have declined by ~40-50%, but ODs continue to rise because of dramatic rise in Chinese illicit drugs coming into the country. It is NOT prescriptions. The CDC has admitted that, but many are already dead.

      We all need to help each other rather than pointing fingers while the government and insurers divide and conquer.

    • susan says:

      Scott
      I feel for you and your pain he was my Doctor and I miss him! Please don’t do anything to yourself, it is hard to find good doctors now. do you have insurance? There are resources available to help you cope. Where are you from?

    • susan says:

      Scott I understand your pain I’ve had excruciating back pain since 2007 from a minor car accident. there are people that can help with your feeling of dispair. where do you live?

  7. This is a terrible tragedy. The system is rigid, inflexible, and hungry. It is punitive, corrosive, and destructive to anyone that interferes with profit.

    From ACGME to the specialist societies and the AMA, from state PHPs to the hospital and insurance systems, the whole system profits off physician labor and aggressively maintains there dependence on that system.

    Our institutions demand “professionalism” but lack integrity. It is unprofessional to tolerate a lack of institutional integrity. This is the sad result of such irrepairable, terminally flawed institutions.

  8. Mindy says:

    Thank you so much for this article. This is so sad. Seeing the impact his life (and death) had on his patients is very touching. I would love to have known him. It definitely inspires me to hang on for another day regardless of the dysfunction in the medical system. Hopefully one day, like you, I can help other physicians stay in the game and fight against the abuse we are forced to take. (Right now I am trying to figure out how to get unstuck and possibly change professions.)

  9. Patricia J Ritchie says:

    Keep up the good work Pamela! We shall overcome.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Have no doubt. WE SHALL.

      “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” ~ MLK

  10. Gayle Roller says:

    I am so sorry to read about the loss of this physician. An unmitigated tragedy.

    You wrote, “Without a proper investigation of the corruption leading to this surgeon’s suicide, there is no way to protect patients or prevent the next doctor suicide” and mentioned that he left documents. Has anybody started investigating?

  11. RB says:

    Dr. Ortiz was most likely destroyed by the government and insurance companies and realized that the American Dream is a lie for licensed professionals who are nothing more than subjects without civil rights of the Totalitarian Administrative State. And all this while lying politicians continue their legal plunder of services and goods from others via democratic mob rule.

    RB

  12. Lori Hartman says:

    Excellent article as always.
    Hopefully your hard work and dedication to this cause will create a wave of change for these hard working, caring, dedicated people.
    Lori Hartman

  13. I’m curious- what are the suicide rates of physicians in other countries? Is it noticeably lower for countries with government sponsored health care?

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      So many variables. I think the rate is high in India, for example, due to extreme poverty, familial pressure to pursue medicine, on top of all the stressors we have in USA. UK seems to have a fair share.

  14. MC says:

    I read this story and it made me emotional. I’ve read many suicide stories regarding healthcare providers in the medical field, but this one stood out to me because the physician was willing to do whatever it took to provide exceptional care to his patients. And after all the years and hard work, it had to end in this tragic manner. It really makes me reflect if I really want to pursue the medical field because I will be applying the upcoming cycle. Sad thing is that this might sound selfish, but I sincerely hope I don’t end up killing myself in the future because I can’t see myself doing anything other than medicine.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      The key is to get support AHEAD of medical school and have a team of healers and friends and confidantes who can help you. Never go at it alone. Don’t wait until the night before you are contemplating suicide to tell your mom, and your friends that you are suffering and WHY you are suffering and what specific help you need. Please read this: Secrets to loving your life in healthcare.

  15. AG says:

    Hi Pamela, This is a heartbreaking story. Thank you for giving voice to the voiceless.

  16. B says:

    My husband (an MD) and I have been talking about this. CNPs are being used in place of MDs and DOs, but do not have the same liability. Doctors are being phased out of patient care, as I’m sure you know.

    I’m curious as to if the NPs are having similar suicides? I am not against NPs and other mid level providers. Many are very good. I’m just curious as to how this is affecting them. A friend’s daughter is in school for CRNA. She will graduate with a Doctorate in Nursing Practice.

    B

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      NP suicide rate appears to be a fraction of physician rate from what I can tell. Of course, more data needed.

      • Pamela Wible MD says:

        Oh except for in anesthesia – I do think some specialty rates are particulary high due to access and exposure to trauma. I do have a separate list of suicides among health professionals. CNRAs do make the list more often than others, Veterinarians are also very high.

      • Deanna Kunkel says:

        NP rates are often lumped in with RN rates as we carry both licenses. We have the same legal liabilities as physicians and many hospital systems are using us as a scapegoat to shield the RNs on the floor and the physicians. Believe me, there is no role in direct patient care that escapes the punitive nature of the system. Here in Columbus an NP is charged with man slaughter charges for the death of a 90 something year old, bed bound man with multiple comorbidities, who developed pressure ulcers at his nursing home and eventually died. The NP and nursing staff are facing criminal, not just civil, charges. Collaborating physician and nursing home administration went uncharged. Believe me, we are often caught between even more levels of bureaucracy and our practice is very precarious.

        • Pamela Wible MD says:

          As physicians wise up and break out of the abusive systems, of course corporations will try to pay NPs and PAs less and put them in situations beyond their scope of practice to make short-term profit on the most vulnerable. Beware.

  17. Patti Dodge says:

    My condolences to the family,friends,co-workers,and patients. I hope that this article and documentary will eventually lead to more media attention on what is going on behind the scenes of the medical industry that drives these caring,compassionate human beings to take their own lives because they believe in the oath that they take to help others and are blocked from doing so. It is a sad thing that it has to come to this in order to receive attention about the corruption in the medical field.

  18. Donald says:

    Pamela, you are a brilliant advocate for life and are to be commended for your selfless struggles You perform such efforts and time to your laudable cause. I am wondering to where do you reach out. Clearly the medical educational/training/practice system is aware and knows what is happening, and I expect at least you attempt to talk with them. Have you considered state licensing bureaus? the many specialty academies? the legal system (wrongful death perspective)? politicians? public/commercial media outlets? Universities have various mental health offices to help collegians confront such stressful issues as undergrads, some academic some social some violent; they know there is a problem bigger than high school but not the magnification beyond university. Many Most of these kids, young adults, in their final stage of growth and development, simply do not know what to ask; they need guidance, and on a limited scale I offer to high school and to university students the advantage of my experiences my knowledge my wisdom. I can reach out. Some reach back. I am available. Ignorance is a starting point once the person is aware. A tough one. Donald

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks Donald. To answer your questions: I have been hearing from most of the groups you mention above. State licensing bureaus are starting to respect the ADA and delete the mental health question so physicians do not fear asking for help. Specialty academies have had me as keynote speaker addressing the suicide crisis within their specialties. Legal system is also involved as several JD/MD attorneys working on wrongful death suits and human rights violations in med training & beyond. FBI and other groups involved in addressing the insurance fraud angle. Guidance with ethical folks in leadership positions in all these bureaus much needed and appreciates. Media also now addressing these doctor suicides in a more substantive manner. More to come my friend . . .

  19. Maybe its because I hear so many stories of sexual harassment and abuse from my patients, but I couldn’t help noticing the comments from some of Dr. Ortiz’s co-workers on his physical appearance and how he was so hot and the nurses were drooling over him or how they joked about setting up a Date Dr. Ortiz night. That turned my stomach and I felt even worse for him. He was being harassed on many levels. If you are having a hard time seeing this, then reflect on these comments being made by male staff about a woman physician. Its really sad.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Excellent point. Much insight there. Exactly why we need to analyze each one of these suicides for themes so we can prevent the next one. I know of many female physicians (usually residents, often J1 Visa) who have been sexually harassed prior to suicides. Difference in those cases is that the harassment is coming from supervisors who are pressuring the women employees for sexual favors to keep their jobs. In this case, Ortiz is receiving unsolicited attention from patients and nurses—people who he seems to adore and have a relationship with in which they have no power over him related to career advancement. Of course, only Ortiz knows if these comments were offensive to him in any way. I’ve had a ton of male patients attracted to me in past and I am not offended as they are relatively benign and well-meaning and are not pressuring me for favors related to career advancement. Thanks Joe. Really appreciate the insight. I’ll keep thinking on this angle as it wasn’t something that immediately registered as a primary issue related to his suicide.

      • Thanks for your reply Pam. Especially as I raised a side issue. Unfortunately it is one I had to deal with a lot today and so I was particularly sensitized to it. I absolutely did not want to blame the other staff for his suicide as they did not mean any harm. I did want to call attention to how culturally acceptable it is to make comments about another person’s sexual attractiveness. It slips off the tongue and I think that in the vast majority of the time the person making the comments does not mean harm. However, we don’t know what is hidden in the background of the person who hears the comment. I have had men who were sexually abused as children talk in therapy about how confusing it is to receive comments like these from women, because the cultural mindset is that men are supposed to want that. So they don’t know how to respond. Of course, as you mention, there is the overt harassment, usually directed at women, which is really criminal.

        • Pamela Wible MD says:

          You are right one and truly opened my eye to yet another pressure Ortiz may have faced from women who adored him. I just have no idea how all of this played out in his mind. Probably nobody does at this point. I do think all of this is worthy of discussion. Spent most of my teen years dressing in baggy clothes and then going to Wellesley–an all-women’s college–specifically to AVOID being sexually objectified. It’s been a struggle to get people to value me for my brain and not my breasts.

          A few stories worth inserting here from a physician friend who received similar unsolicited sexual comments:

          “I have repeatedly had male supervising physicians (and sadly other women and nurses) comment on my breast size. I started wearing baggy clothes and then everyone kept asking if I was pregnant, even coming up to touch my abdomen. If I wore more fitted clothes, even with my white coat on, I was accused of being too sexy. My blonde hair and breast size seem to really fry people’s brains. It’s like they have no idea that I do have a brain! Meanwhile, nobody talks about whether male doctors wear ties or if their pants are too tight.”

          (as mentioned above) I’ve spent much of my life wearing baggy clothes in an effort to be recognized for my brain, not my boobs. No matter how I dress, I still have male patients who want to hug me for a really long time at the beginning—and end of their appointments. Do little old ladies rub themselves up against their male doctors? Can you imagine poking at a male doctor’s chest or belly and asking personal questions about body shape or sexuality?

          Patients may even be outright sexually aggressive with female doctors, yet supervisors protect the offending patients and expect women to tolerate the abuse—often placing us directly in harm’s way. One female medical student tells me she was sent in alone to remove suprapubic stitches on a man who had made sexual advances on her.

          Complex cultural issues here worth reflecting on for sure and impacts both men and women. Thankfully we are at least bringing the conversation out into the open.

          Regarding many in high-profit-potential specialties (like ortho) and celebrities (with gurus and tons of earning potential) there is ALSO the added burden of not grasping the intention of the person hitting on you. Are they attracted to you, your blue eyes, or your earning potential? The whole thing can be a terrible set up for those who are too naive to get the true intentions of those “attracted” to us.

          I kinda wonder how many male docs in high-earning specialties feel they may be married to the wrong person?

          That’s a whole ‘nother conversation THOUGH may also be relevant in Ortiz case since he was in the midst of a divorce. Only Ortiz knows how he feels about all this.

  20. S Doc says:

    Wow …. another sad sad loss. Few random comments. I’m disturbed that people value the act of a man flying back from what was probably a well-needed and rare vacation. Who does that and no one should. This poor man lacked boundaries for self care. Fixing a pot hole ? This man gave too much. I’m not thrilled that he was a hunter but my disapproval is not appropriate for this conversation. Switching gears. Being bullied at work is something many of my colleagues and I are facing right now. We contacted the medical board and they DID NOTHING. We pay them large sums to police us !!! And they don’t do that very well!! I’m sure you are familiar with the fight that is going on with the ABIM. I’m glad and it’s about time. Maybe the same should occur with the various medical boards who take our money in large sums and essentially do nothing.
    Thanks for reading. Look forward to meeting you one day.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Physicians are admired and revered for always putting patients first—sometimes to their own detriment. Doesn’t always play out well when they feel pulled in so many directions (admin pressure for volume, procedures, divorce, student loan debt, etc . . ) Doctors NEED support and they MUST care for themselves first. Ortiz did seek out help. Never received the kind of help he needed. Tragic all around.

  21. Jenn says:

    Thank you so much for what you are doing! I hope and pray for this country to open their eyes to the practices in the medical industry!

    All the best to you!

    Jenn

  22. Virgil says:

    On Apr 15, 2019, at 5:24 AM, Virgil Hayes,DO wrote:

    Pam,
    As we know, the medical education and training lacks compassion and empathy. It is certainly not the only ‘helping’ profession with that distinction, but it is more intense than others.

    What is curious to me is medical school administrators and teachers will describe it as “Barbaric”. However, they continue to follow the same traditions and practices?

    In my mind, I have a better foundation to prepare future competent, healthy, compassionate physicians that avoids the training that creates wounded souls.

    You are correct, a paradigm shift is not only needed; it is imperative!

    Virgil

  23. U says:

    Thank you so much for such a beautiful article and showing him the way he truly was. It’s been two years but it feels like it happened yesterday. We were dating for almost a year but we were keeping quiet so everyone can see us as professionals, only his and my family knew. I work with many different doctors every day but my dr Ortiz was really incredible, special, always caring about everyone but himself. I talked to him same night that he died and I wish I could stopped him. He was pushed by hospital, practice to the limits and the pain in his heart from being missed treaded was so strong than even I couldn’t saved him.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I’m glad I could capture the essence of who he was in all his complexity. A man who dedicated himself to other human beings–even in his decision to end his own life. Complex situation deserving of a full investigation. How many others are suffering similarly in silence? Thank you for loving him.

    • susan says:

      Dr O as I referred to him was my hero I miss him terribly he changed my life so much. My husband and I loved him

  24. Mike says:

    You did a very nice job with this write up. Paid respect and honor to a lost brother.

    Mike

  25. Sherry cleveland says:

    Yes Susan. I worked with him in the OR every week. I remember you. I was there for that particular case.

  26. Jonathan Martinez says:

    I’m the article it said specifically that he turned white a ghost during a phone conversation the day before his suicide. I only have a few questions:
    – Who are the two murdering doctors that were bullying him in his practice? They insidiously got inside his head and premeditated his demise. Those bullies are murderers and should be exposed as such. I can help with that, I’m a computer nerd.
    – Second, how is his family doing financially after this tragedy? Who loved him the most in this world? How can we continue his legacy?

  27. Melissa Melvin says:

    My condolences to Dr. Ortiz family and patients. My spine surgeon was kicked out of the practice 6 months after my 9 level fusion three years ago and I have yet to find another spine surgeon. His name was Paul J. Tsahakis of Charlotte, NC, and his patients loved him, but now we no longer have our beloved doctor and I want to know why?

  28. R. Michael Maddox says:

    I don’t really know what to say. This corruption going on in our country. In the country that is supposed to be “Best care in the world”. As long as healthcare is For Profit and not For Patient, these things will continue. I did not know this great man. But I have known many docs. that are worthless part of the problem. My condolences to his family, patients and friends. I do feel your grief, as a disabled Veteran suffering Chronic, Intractable Pain. Thank you for this story, and keep this subject alive until we don’t have these issues any more. Bless you.

  29. Forever grateful to Ben Shaffer says:

    Posting a beautiful comment about another orthopedic surgeon lost to suicide here:

    On April 13, as fate would have it, Dr. Shaffer’s name came up in a conversation 25 years after I lost touch with him. I was so saddened when a google search revealed that he died in 2015 and stunned when I found this keynote revealing the cause as suicide.

    I thank God I was fortunate enough to be his patient. After 5 years and 12 doctors, my severe hip pain remained undiagnosed and with no apparent cause. At 33, I was unable to sleep more than 2 hours, heavily medicated for pain, used a cane to walk and, at times, needed a wheel chair. I was eventually referred to Ben Shaffer. He was kind and caring and smart…he diagnosed my rare hip condition leading to a cure and a comfortable future. I am so sorry to read about his struggles and will be forever grateful that he managed to touch patients throughout his life and in spite of those struggles.

    I have read this entire keynote and all related posts with great interest and great concern. I was unfamiliar with this issue and was able to share this new knowledge with my son who is finishing his second year of med school. Thank you Dr. Wible for your work and thank you, once again, to Dr. Shaffer for leading me to this information.

    Perhaps you can see that I could not let the April 12 post by Anonymous be the last word on Ben Shaffer. Like all of us, I am sure he was not a perfect man. But he will always be a hero to me. Thank you, Doctor, peace be with you.

  30. I am so passionate about this issue as a PT specializing in complex cases and someone who had suicide ideation for many years. Not being able to show up as your full, authentic self at work, as Dr. Ortiz was not allowed to do, is a huge problem. We have to create new systems that make the old ones obsolete and make all of us healthier. I have some clear ideas on what they need to look like. Clinically I have found that people in suicide ideation are in what I define as full vagus nerve lockdown. I now ask people about it when I find it because the correlation is so strong among those patients that I treat. I understand 100% how to measure this in evidence-based biomechanical terms. In my experience the trauma on the vagus nerve is a huge aspect driving suicidal thoughts and even hallucinations. The vagus nerve literally gets pinched. In more energetic terms, when the vagus nerve is severely compressed I find the energy of the body more closely mimics death and the thoughts seem to go to try and match it. In the process the individual loses coping skills. I have a system and am getting ready to publish it in my book with the anecdotal evidence and am actively looking for researchers to run clinical trials on the system and intervention. I have used it mostly for physical pain but the mental health aspect has showed up in my practice enough that I know I am supposed to bring this information there as well. I have been blown away at the transformations I have had the privilege to facilitate in this realm, including suicide ideation and hallucinations. The mechanical part is easy to fix. There are some other layers, obviously, but the mechanical piece is one of the shortest paths out of the darkness in my experience.

  31. Sameena says:

    What is the citation for the stat that one million patients lose their physician to suicide each year? It is a great stat, and I would like to reference it. Thanks!

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      You can reference me as I am the one who first authored that statement published in my Washington Post article back in 2014. Here’s the actual paragraph in the article.

      “About 400 doctors commit suicide each year, according to studies, though researchers have suggested that is probably an underestimation. Given that a typical doctor has about 2,300 patients, under his or her care, that means more than a million Americans will lose a physician to suicide this year.” ~ Pamela Wible, MD

      Quote away . . .

      • Sameena says:

        Thank you! Two fellow 3rd-year medical students and I are putting the finishing touches on our first ever OpEd — following in the footsteps of people like you doing what we can to prevent the occupational hazard of suicide in healthcare profesions.

        • Pamela Wible MD says:

          AWESOME Sameena! Way to go and please send me a copy of it when it’s published. I’ll share on SoMe :))

  32. Susan Britton says:

    I have read your article about male physicians suicides,and more specifically, about the death of Dr. Steve Ortiz, of Hernando County, Florida. I remember hearing of his tragic death on 2/8/2017 and am saddened even more as I read your article and watch the trailer of the documentary, DO NO HARM. Why is it that you did not mention the name of the corporation that pressured this wonderful doctor by expecting him to engage in unethical practices that could have been harmful to his loving patients? I now understand that the medical system in the USA today is broken and I wonder why legislation to make changes, is not a priority? Why are these suicides not being investigated? Where is the help for medical professionals who feel that suicide is the only way to solve the problem or draw attention to it? I have signed the petition and ask what else can we do to assist you and this cause?

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      1) Why is it that you did not mention the name of the corporation that pressured this wonderful doctor by expecting him to engage in unethical practices that could have been harmful to his loving patients?

      Because this behavior is typical of many healthcare corporations and their unethical leadership so naming one institution does nothing to wipe out the widespread corruption of many. Don’t be fooled. Ortiz is not an isolated victim.

      2) I wonder why legislation to make changes, is not a priority?

      When people are unaware of the specific problem, how can changes be made? Plus those in power are making a nice passive income of their profit-over-people scheme so they are not inclined to change the flow of money.

      3) Why are these suicides not being investigated? Medical institutions, media, legal system by en large doesn’t care to be quite honest. Families are in a state of grief and disbelief and can’t quite wrap their heads around the loss of their loved one as part of a HUGE epidemic in medicine—and most simply can’t muster the energy to file wrongful death lawsuits within the 2-year statute of limitations.

      4) Where is the help for medical professionals who feel that suicide is the only way to solve the problem or draw attention to it? Doesn’t exist. So I’ve been running a free suicide hotline for medical students and doctors since 2012. reach out to me here and I WILL call you back if you are suffering. Of course please get local help if actively at risk. Don’t give up your precious life.

  33. Melissa Hennegan says:

    Steve was my ex brother in law…couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I was truly upset when I learned of his death…

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