Medicine’s Dirty Secret | Physician Suicide

December 26, 2019

Three residents have passed away in the last
seven months at Loma Linda University Medical Center. A couple months back, we lost a second physician
to suicide. And I remember speaking with David Hendon,
he has a YouTube channel, really awesome stuff if you haven’t checked him out you definitely
should, and he and I were going to collaborate on making this documentary on physician suicide
to bring more awareness to this issue that we just don’t talk about enough. And honestly, I haven’t made any progress
on it at all whatsoever. Got pushed lower and lower on the list of
things to do. Recently, I read a post from one of the residents
I used to work with, Dr. Armando Davila at Loma Linda. He’s also a plastic surgery resident. And it got me thinking that, okay, maybe I’m
not going to start out by making a documentary, but I need to – I feel obligated to do something
or to say something about this because this is a huge issue, it’s affecting all of us
in the medical field and it doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. I’m going to have his post down in the description
because he said this so eloquently and so beautifully. First of all, these deaths have been shrouded
in secrecy and that’s just standard for the medical profession. We generally get an email saying that, “We’re
very sorry to have lost someone.”, and then we don’t really get much clarity. There’s just a lot of these rumors floating
around and the overall outcome is just the same where… silence. We don’t give this issue the attention it
deserves. And the sad thing is, it’s not terribly unreasonable
to imagine that this is a common thing, especially now that I’ve been in it. Before I started medical school or even at
the beginning of medical school, I had heard how, you know, medical student and physician
suicide was this issue and I didn’t understand it. But even in medical school, we lost one of
our classmates and now, you know, having experienced residency, it’s becoming a lot clearer to
me. Now physicians choose to go into this specialty
for a variety of reasons, some of them altruistic some not so much. But regardless, we all go down this path and
it is grueling and often times incomprehensible. Only those who have lived it can really understand
it. You know, we can explain to our loved ones,
we can make videos or write posts and try to explain to the general public what it means,
why is this so tough, why is it – why do we often complain about it so much. But it’s hard to really grasp it and truly
understand it until you’re in it. Until you put that white coat on. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There have been so many movements the last
several years, we have Black Lives Matter, Trevor Project, Me Too. Those issues aren’t necessarily exactly comparable
but the same themes holds true. So, we all know that residency training is
brutal, that it’s not healthy and yet we’re told – we’re told that this is just the way
it is. That in the long run, this is going to make
you a stronger and better physician. The older physicians, the older surgeons will
say how things were so terrible back in the day and they were working – they didn’t have
the 80 hour work week restriction. “We were working way harder. Things were way worse. You guys should be happy. You should be thankful that things are the
way they are now.” And then remind us of this thing that just
totally hit at home… What would happen if you said the same thing
to women? And said, “Hey, be happy you can vote now. You can hold a job now. You’re not reated like property by a man now. Be happy, things are so much better.” How outrageous is that? We’ve come such a long way, that should be
enough, right? Obviously, it’s not enough, people are dying. At our schools, at our programs, physicians
are dying. If you’re in the medical profession right
now, I would bet that you probably know someone either in med school or residency that is
now gone. And the sad thing is that when we do lose
them, we don’t properly mourn them, we don’t honor them, we don’t – We hide them, we erase
them from the hospital. We blame the program, “Oh, the program must
have caused that, not in my program… my program is better than that”. And secretly we tell ourselves that, “They
were just weaker and we’re stronger. We wouldn’t do that.” And all the while we stay quiet. Remember, silence is a choice. Silence is an action. We’re told that we can talk to our seniors,
our attendings, our program directors, the GME office, that’s not true. The best residents aren’t those that make
waves or stir things up. They just maintain the status quo. And all the while, they sacrifice their entire
life to this profession; their family, their friends, their relationships, their support,
everything that makes them human just that they can try to save someone else’s life. How can we take care of someone else, if we
can’t even take care of ourselves? The culture is such that it is so difficult
to be vocal about anything in the medical profession, especially something like this. We’re afraid of what the repercussions may
be. How would this affect our chances to get into
medical school or residency or fellowship? We can’t even think about what’s proper, what’s
right for the common good because we’re so caught up in the system and this makes us
feel alone. And then this loneliness turns into resentment,
into spite, into anger and then we just turn against the people that we’re working with. We don’t treat them the way we would want
to be treated and we just – we perpetuate – the cycle just continues. We just feed into it. We become the exact thing that we didn’t want
to be in the first place. You know, we all talk about how medical training
is so broken. Residency, med school, it’s toxic, it’s not
healthy, it’s unsustainable, it’s ironic, we’re promoting health and yet not taking
care of ourselves, all these things and we complain. But we don’t really do anything about it. I was even trying to do a documentary and
I copped out. I didn’t even start that. I don’t have a solution. I don’t know what all the answers are or how
to fix it but I do know that the way to start, is by having a conversation, by having a discussion,
getting it out there, speaking about it. Let’s have a dialogue. Let’s throw in our different opinions and
see what we can do about the issue. Look, I’m grateful that things are better
now and it’s not as bad as it was. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Let’s end physician silence. I know it sounds crazy, one guy on a YouTube
channel making this video. But you know what? I’m making this video because someone had
the balls to write a post about it and that inspired me. And maybe by me making this video, I hope
that you’ll also get vocal about it. You don’t even have to be in med school or
a resident to do anything about it. If you know of someone or if you just don’t
stand for it, do something about it. Have those difficult conversations, get vocal
about it, let’s get it out in the open. Fellow YouTubers, I’m looking at you as well,
I hope that you guys join me on this, let’s end physician silence. I know it sounds crazy but let’s do some crazy
shit together. I don’t know if this is going to work but
at least I’m trying. If you’re not happy with it, you can do something
as well. We don’t have to stand for this, let’s stop
physician silence. [Music]

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