Pranay Sinha, a doctor in his first year of specialization at Yale, has written a very courageous article in the New York Times after two other doctors, also medical residents, committed suicide in this American city two weeks earlier. These episodes, the latest in a long series, induced the young man to attempt to give a face to a tragedy, widespread but completely ignored, and that largely involves women. “The statistics on suicides among doctors are frightening. Physicians are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as nonphysicians (and female physicians three times more likely than their male counterparts)”. And he says later: “Young physicians at the beginning of their training are particularly vulnerable: In a recent study, 9.4 per cent of fourth-year medical students and interns… reported having suicidal thoughts in the previous two weeks”. The depression that seems to target American medical residents cannot only be attributed to acute stress, social isolation, pre-existing mental illness and substance abuse, aspects that they share with a large part of the Western adult population. In the case of doctors there is something else instead. Sinha speaks first of all of a strange machismo that pervades medicine: doctors feel pressure to project intellectual, emotional and physical prowess beyond what they truly posses. To this must be added another element: without any support or real training in the field, interns are required to have a comprehensive understanding of up to 10 patients on any given day, masquerading their feelings of inadequacy before their colleagues and supervisors. And yet little would suffice to change both these things which might appear to be in contradiction but in reality are combined in a distorted way. “We need to be able to voice these doubts and fears. We need to be able to talk about the sadness of that first death certificate we signed, the mortification at the first incorrect prescription we ordered, the embarrassment of not knowing an answer on rounds that a medical student knew. A medical culture that encourages us to share these vulnerabilities could help us realize that we are not alone”. All this, Sinha concludes, “would make us all better doctors”.
St. Peter’s Square
Dec. 11, 2019
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