The American Medical Association has adopted a new policy aimed at pinpointing patterns that could ultimately predict and prevent suicide among practicing physicians and medical students. The policy calls on the accrediting bodies for medical schools and residency training programs, specifically the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, to gather data on medical student, resident and fellow suicides.
The AMA said they will issue a report on the best method by which to study the actual incidence of medical student, resident, and physician suicide later in the year that will also include recommendations on taking action.
Physicians are at a particularly high risk of suicide and often choose not to seek professional help to deal with the emotional stresses and workload that comes with the field of medicine. Burnout is often a precursor to suicide and has proven to be a pervasive and potentially damaging force, with 74 percent of physicians reporting frequently seeing symptoms of burnout in others, though only 52 said they themselves regularly felt burned out.
Additionally, 52 percent said burnout affected their work performance and 45 percent of physicians said it affected their job satisfaction. More than a quarter said family relationships were affected.
Adding to the complicated issue is that a recent study showed doctors can be unwilling to seek mental health help to deal with the rigors of their profession. While 51 percent reported that their workload had impacted their mental health, only 17 percent have sought help and even more alarming, only 16 percent have considered meeting with a mental health professional. Two-thirds said they would not consider meeting with one at all.
This is likely linked to another finding of the survey, that 53 percent of physicians felt mental health is a taboo topic to discuss.
ON THE RECORD
"Studies have shown that physicians face a higher rate of suicide than any profession in the United States. While we have been working hard to reduce burnout and increase access to mental health services for physicians and medical students, it is imperative that we also work toward fully understanding the problem," said AMA Board Member Dr. Ryan J. Ribeira. "We believe that collecting data on the incidence of suicide among physicians-in-training will help us identify the systemic factors that contribute to this problem, and ultimately save lives."
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