Earlier this year, The Washington Post Health and Sciences section posted an article entitled “What I’ve learned from my tally of 757 doctor suicides” by Dr. Pamela Wible (Washington Post, January 13, 2018). Dr. Wible started tracking doctor suicides about five years ago, determined to find the underlying cause after attending 3 doctors’ funerals (death by suicide) in 18 short months. She’s spoken with thousands of suicidal doctors and even published a book of doctor suicide letters. Dr. Wible shares her findings so that we stop looking the other way and start dealing with this complex and disturbing phenomenon head-on.
From Dr. Wible’s findings, we perpetuate a culture of distress that fuels the problem. From bullying/hazing to academic distress to assembly-line medicine to job-fueled PTSD: the healthcare system that is designed to make patients better is the problem that is killing our doctors.
At the same time, the National Academy of Medicine has taken a new focus on burnout, shining a bright light on the status quo and formally calling attention to clinician well-being. NAM has created an Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience with over 50 organizations committing to reversing trends on clinician burnout. The three overarching goals of the Collaborative include raising baseline awareness of challenges to clinician well-being, raising visibility of clinician burnout, and elevating evidence-based, multidisciplinary solutions that will improve patient care by caring for the caregiver. This last goal ties together clinician well-being and the quality of patient care as two sides of one coin: healthy, resilient doctors will provide better care for patients, full stop.
What nags at me is there is plenty of talk about statistics and not nearly enough pressure to take action. Dr. Wible reminds us that doctors are dying. This is not a metaphor. And while it is so very important to have evidence-based solutions, what can healthcare leaders do in the interim? What is the minimum-effective dose of intervention that starts to right the wrongs we’ve done to providers?
Greenleaf Integrative has long served mission-driven organizations on building the resilience and well-being of individuals, teams, and organizations. Contact us to learn more about how to get started on a path of healing our healers. We simply no longer have the luxury of time. Dr. Wible’s article is a grim reminder of what can happen when we don’t act.