Why medical conferences feel like funerals


A friend just got back from a big medical conference at a fancy hotel. The cleaning ladies actually pulled her aside to ask, “What’s with all the grim faces and sad eyes?”

Do doctors realize medical conferences look like funerals? That’s what the cleaning ladies think. I bet they’re not the only ones.

Why do medical conferences feel like funerals? Maybe because doctors are dying by suicide at twice the rate of their patients.


The truth is doctors are dying from despair.

I attend lots of conferences. Writing conferences. Entrepreneurial conferences. Marketing conferences. I’m fueled by the energy and enthusiasm of authors, entrepreneurs, and business people who are so darn passionate about what they do in the world.

But I avoid medical conferences, and here’s why: the energy is low. Doctors look depressed, defeated, checked out. I’m naturally a hypomanic optimistic, and even I have to admit—most medical conferences make me feel sad.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the hotels. Meals are superb. My pillow is nice and fluffy. The medical content is enriching. But the doctors look miserable. I could reference their clinical symptoms in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but if the cleaning ladies are so worried about us that they’re questioning our mental health, maybe we should stop diagnosing patients for a moment and examine ourselves.

Health care is making doctors sick. Even suicidal.

I was once a depressed and suicidal doctor. I thought I was the only one. Now I know depression and suicidal thoughts are an occupational hazard of the medical profession. Let’s face the facts: it’s depressing to be surrounded by sick people all day without enough time to care for them—or ourselves—in 7-minute office visits. And if we seek mental health care, we face real retribution and license restrictions.

Doctors are fed up with assembly-line medicine. The solution I found for my own despair is simple. I went from suicidal to successfully self-employed in six weeks! I took a leap of faith and invited my community to design their very own medical clinic! In less than 30 days we opened the first ideal clinic designed entirely by patients. I’ve never been happier.

Since opening our community clinic 10 years ago, I’ve helped doctors open ideal clinics all across America. In my travels, I meet lots of physician entrepreneurs. They all have one thing in common—they’re happy!

Our medical training doesn’t teach us the business skills we need to thrive as physicians today. Maybe doctors should attend fewer medical conferences and more entrepreneurial and marketing events. Hang out with happy people who love their careers and see what we can glean from them.

For now, I’m going to continue to do my continuing medical education online.

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician and founder of the ideal medical care movement. She offers bi-annual retreats for medical students and physicians who want to learn the business skills they need to be open their ideal clinics.

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14 comments on “Why medical conferences feel like funerals
  1. Michael Langan, M.D. says:

    We need to address transparency, regulation and oversight of Physician Health Programs (PHPs) head on. One of the primary “protective factors” for suicide is “institutional justice.” Physician Health Programs are self described “zero-tolerance” monitoring programs using frequent drug and alcohol testing with “swift and certain consequences” for a positive test.
    There is a current debate in Washington over regulation of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs). This is a pathway that was designed to develop clinical tests of low risk for rare diseases or public health emergencies to make them quickly available. It bypasses the costly FDA approval process and there is no FDA oversight. The validity of the test does not even have to be proved and the lab can market it with any validity they want. No regulation, oversight or transparency just like PHPs.

    But there is a black hole of LDTs introduced for “forensic” purposes used for drug and alcohol testing. The LDT pathway was not designed for “forensic” testing. As the results of a false-positive test can be grave and far reaching it would be inappropriate to do so.

    The majority of these tests were introduced by Federation of State Physician Health Program and ASAM doctors. The it was the EtG introduced by Alabama PHP Medical Director Greg Skipper and the latest is the CDPB (cellular digital photo breathalyzer) being used on doctors being monitored by PHPs after a pilot study on only 14 subjects!

    Could you think of anything more institutionally unjust than a zero-tolerance monitoring program using drug and alcohol testing of unknown and questionable validity they introduced. The COI and lack of evidence-base is incredible but no one has addressed it.
    And the reason this needs to be addressed urgently is because these same groups are claiming the “PHP-blueprint” is the “gold standard” and a “replicable” model that can be used in other populations (they have already begun with airlines).

    PHPs have no oversight, regulation or accountability just like the tests they introduced.
    We need to change this and calling for transparency, regulation and oversight is something everyone should agree with (except those involved). And if we remains silent any longer it will inevitably impact all of us. We need to speak up now.
    Michael Langan

  2. Louis B. Cady, M.D. says:

    Preach on sister!!!! Love your work. Keep it up.

    your fan,

  3. Daniel Lang says:

    Dr. Pam, I agree – assembly line medicine sucks. I just went to the ENT to “get my ears cleaned”. Here is the summary:
    1) I have to make an appointment only at the beginning of the month for the current month. If I am not early enough in the month all appointments are filled.
    2) I made appointment for my wife for an ear cleaning and we cannot go at the same time. She has to go two weeks later because she is a new patient.
    3) The ear cleaning took TWO MINUTES.
    4) Despite being an existing patient I had to manual fill out all the forms again because it was a new year. My wife had to fill all these form because she was a new patient.
    5) Doctor complained about the computer. He said it was suppose to save time in the future.
    6) Interrupted by a nurse just when the doctor was about to clean my ears.
    7) I had to wait to know if I owed anything at the end of the exam, because the doctor was still filling out the EMR record.
    And this is just for an ear cleaning.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Oh no. Tragic. Too many middlemen in health care. Docs need to take this profession back. Ridiculous and so frustrating!!!! Please tell your ENT to call me as he needs help getting his practice back from these destabilizing forces that make it impossible for him to do a simple ear cleaning. In the meantime you might want to get one of these cheap home ear washers.

  4. jan says:

    I’ve been fortunate to be part of a vibrant, passionate physician community–if you want to go to an inspiring conference, attend the Washington Academy of Family Physicians’ House of Delegates and Annual Scientific Assembly in May! It reminds me every year why I went into family medicine 🙂

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      AWESOME!! Great to hear that. Do they accept outsiders from Oregon? 🙂

      • jan says:

        I can’t imagine they’d refuse a visitor! Only WAFP members can debate on the floor and vote in the House of Delegates, of course, but that is one of the best times to watch their passion for caring for their patients and their communities in action!

  5. Bala says:

    I think we doctors did this to ourselves. In the name of self-righteousness and “holier than thou” attitude, a few of the physicians from yester-year kept finding fault with their own colleagues and putting them down. For 15 mins of fame, one could write a random article like “80% of doctors are not checking their pt’s bp or pulse” or similar… When a few doctors reached a position of authority like in AMA or other physician organizations, they quit practising medicine and took the task of destroying the other doctors.. This encouraged the ambulance chasers to use these parasitic doctors to destroy the medical community and hence the despair… You can never find such self destructive elements in other professions like lawyers or engineers.. Unionizing doctors and standing up to lawyers and the never ending frivolous litigation has the potential to make this job more enjoyable and to make health care cheaper..

  6. Scott Serbin says:

    I have had the privilege of co-directing a regional emergency & acute care medicine conference for the past 12 years, now going on its 13th year. I learned a lot over the years about conferences, such as no provider wants to be sitting in an auditorium at 7:00 am after a big evening event. Conversely, the ideal time to end lectures/labs is either 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm. We have always had a solid mix of lab/lecture days along with our well-recognized evening hospitality suite for all attendees, including exhibitors. I firmly believe that conference directors have to carefully intersperse new and seasoned lecturers to keep the audience engaged. Above all, you need your staff to be truly engaging and committed to providing an exceptional experience for all attendees. Nobody likes dealing with conference staff that is aloof and does not treat conference attendees as invited guests.

  7. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD says:

    The one exception is the AMWA conference. A couple of years ago, AMWA restarted our Annual meeting and the power there is palpable! To be surrounded by strong empathetic, compassionate women who have affected change for over 100 years it is amazing. The information is fabulous as the speakers are first rate, but it is the energy, the stories, the camaraderie that make this one different. Try it! April 23-26, 2015 Chicago amwa-doc.org

  8. Lynn Evans says:

    I just returned from my first time as a presenter at the AMWA Annual Meeting in Chicago. I was delighted to be in the company of so many adventurous, inspirational and HAPPY women. Maybe I missed the sad part? The lectures did touch upon some very uncomfortable subjects but the attendees seemed inspired to take action on these issues not saddened and resigned by them. An amazing group of women who clearly deserve our admiration and thanks. Looking forward to next year!

  9. Ratri Galuh says:

    I’m naturally a hypomanic optimistic, that’s mean ?

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