If you’re a surgeon or doctor, you are more likely to commit suicide than the general population. According to Wikipedia, women are 25% more likely and men are 70% more likely to commit or attempt suicide. Have we got your attention yet? These figures are surprising not only for the general population but for many healthcare professionals we have spoken to whom were oblivious to the alarming statistics. With these suicide rates higher with Doctors, maybe it’s not such a glamorous job after all.
Doctors are quite possibly one of the highest scrutinised professions with little to no support systems in place, a highly political driven work environment with enormous responsibility and an underperforming union; all whilst providing care and making life changing decisions to a person and families at their most vulnerable.Dr Gavin Sandercoe, Plastic Surgeon from Bella Vista in NSW says “the pressures that doctors and surgeons are placed under every day with the increased expectations placed on colleagues around the country is pushing more and more of them to become burnt out and stressed to levels not always able to be handled.”
Most of us see doctors and surgeons as an intelligent group of individuals, who have obviously had the focus to study many years and choose a career that pays well and allows them to live a glamorous life with nice cars. We joke about our super smart kids all becoming doctors when they grow up, but only a small percentage of them do. And in fact to even get in to study medicine you have to be amongst the top 5% of ‘smart’ people. We might have to start reassessing our views and expectations.
Stress is a major contributor to depression, anxiety and other psychological issues and there are many causes of stress and in today’s modern world. It’s hard enough for many of us to balance work/career, family, children and our lives in general in a world that is so fast paced nowadays that if you blink you’ll miss it. We have higher expectations for things to happen quickly. Businesses and corporations employ people to reduce costs and increase productivity. This includes hospitals. Dr Sandercoe explains “Our overworked health care workers are having to deal with excessive procedures, processes, patient numbers and ridiculous levels of pressure, and they are expected to do so in order to survive in the hospital business”. Because unfortunately, business is exactly what hospitals are in today’s world.
So, what are some of the problems causing such high rates of suicide among our health professionals?
Although many of us work long hours, whether out of passion for our job or for financial reasons, many surgeons describe working up to 20 hour days and sleeping in hospital storage rooms or in their cars. Others are expected to be “on call” 24 hours a day and sometimes this means finding a few blocks of one or two hours sleep at a time for a week. Stories such as this are not uncommon, in fact they are more the norm than not in many hospitals around the country, and indeed the world. Surgeons sacrifice their family life, and while many of them had expected to do so to some degree, most of them don’t usually imagine it will be as bad as what it actually is.
Most of us are aware of the increasing “red tape”, forms to fill out, documentation to be logged, recorded, registered, cataloged and entered into often overly pedantic and non-user friendly computer programs in many big business, from phone companies to government departments and everything in between. Top heavy management and administration roles who’ve never actually worked on the front line create programs and processes designed to increase productivity but actually do just the opposite. So many bigger businesses are guilty of it nowadays including hospitals, and those on the front line are having to work harder to manage it. Surgeons, nurses, reception staff, not to mention patients, are the ones that are paying for the misguided attempts to increase productivity.
Instead of spending their day tending to patients and taking the time they need to treat them, surgeons are running from one surgery to the next. They are timed and only supposed to take as long as that surgery is estimated to take – this gives us invaluable insight as to why doctors and surgeons are always running late!! I’ll never look at another surgeon who’s late in the same way again. I only hope they are late to the patient after me if they need to be!!
Reaching crisis point
The situation is starting to get to a point where it is leading many surgeons to feel as though they don’t have a way out. Not only do they have one of the most intense jobs in the world where trauma, death, emotional highs and lows and highly charged emergency situations are part and parcel of the job, they are pushed to their physical and mental limits each and every day trying to meet the expectations placed upon them. Not to mention feeling guilty about never making it home to dinner with their families and continually missing their son’s soccer games.
It seems there are so many aspects of life reaching boiling point. We as a society need to take greater care of ourselves or suicide rates will continue to climb, mental illness will continue to become more common and society will ultimately suffer the consequences. We already are. And if we’re not looking after our surgeons and healthcare professionals who ultimately look after all of us… where do we end up?
If you’d like to read more about this complex and concerning topic we suggest you read this article by Dr Eric Levi on “The Dark Side of Doctoring” which is receiving a lot of publicity and support over the spotlight on the subject. Remember, it’s not as glamorous a job as you might think it is!