Burnout, depression, stress, hopelessness, and despair are increasingly words used by physicians as they face a new normal after the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The result is that one in 10 have considered or attempted suicide.  A new report from MedScape shows nearly a quarter of physicians are clinically depressed and over 60 percent suffer from colloquial depression (feeling down, blue, or sad).  Responses to the survey of thousands of doctors include: “I am constantly depressed and looking for a way out,” “I have little joy in performing (my) job,” and “I’m tired of life.”

Saturday, September 17, 2022, is National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.  The day is a reminder and a call to action to take time to talk to colleagues, start conversations, and learn the signs.

There are 6 actions you can take.  Click on any of these for tips:

  1.  Learn the Signs
  2. Share Suicide Prevention Resources
  3. Prepare BEFORE a moment of crisis
  4. Check in with a physician
  5. Understand and remove structural barriers
  6. Create a culture of wellbeing

The North Carolina Medical Society is a supporting organization of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.  We are committed to ensuring our members feel safe in addressing their own mental health and wellness concerns.  We look to raise awareness and create a culture of wellbeing.  NCMS prioritizes efforts to reduce burnout, safeguard job satisfaction, and considers seeking mental health services a sign of strength.

NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley

North Carolina DHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley joins NCMS in supporting National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.

“Physicians play an essential role in the health and wellbeing of our communities across North Carolina,” Kinsley says.  “Passion-driven and caregiving roles, such as doctors and nurses, are some of the most susceptible to burnout and experience higher suicide rates – 40% higher for men and 130% higher for women – than that of the general public. For too long, the stigma surrounding suicide has been a barrier to many seeking out the services and treatment they need. Understanding the impact of suicide on every North Carolinian, including our physicians, is key to combatting stigma and shame. Talking about suicide saves lives.”

The American Medical Association is also weighing in with new research on physician burnout.  A new study concludes COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated long-standing system issues that drive burnout

The burnout rate among physicians in the United States spiked dramatically during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a newly published study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers found that 2020 marked the end of a six-year period of decline in the overall rate of work-induced burnout among physicians. By the end of 2021, after 21-months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physician burnout rate spiked to a new height that was greater than previously monitored by researchers.

“While the worst days of COVID-19 pandemic are hopefully behind us, there is an urgent need to attend to physicians who put everything into our nation’s response to COVID-19, too often at the expense of their own well-being,” said AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., M.D. “The sober findings from the new research demand urgent action as outlined in the AMA’s Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, which focuses on supporting physicians, removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care, and prioritizing physician well-being as essential requirements to achieving national health goals.”

The new physician burnout research builds on landmark studies conducted at regular intervals between 2011 and 2021 by researchers from the AMA, Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine. Together, these studies found the overall prevalence of burnout among U.S. physicians was 62.8% in 2021compared with 38.2% in 2020, 43.9% in 2017, 54.4% in 2014, and 45.5% in 2011. Each study consistently demonstrated that the overall prevalence of occupational burnout among physicians were higher relative to the U.S. workforce.

Since 2012, the AMA has led the national conversation on solving the physician burnout crisis and advocated for new thinking and solutions that acknowledge physicians need support, system reforms, and burden reduction. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the drivers of physician burnout. Research has shown that due to COVID-related stress, 1 in 5 physicians intend to leave their current practice within 2 years.

The AMA’s ongoing work to mitigate physician burnout, as exemplified by the Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians, strives to attack the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care. The AMA website offers physicians and health systems a choice of cutting-edge tools, information and resources to help rekindle a joy in medicine, including:

  • STEPS Forward™ – a collection of more than 70 award‐winning online toolkits offered by the AMA that help physicians and medical teams make transformative changes to their practices and covers everything from managing stress and preventing burnout to improving practice workflow.
  • Organization Biopsy™ – a set of measurement resources developed by the AMA that assess burnout levels within medical organizations to provide metrics that can guide solutions and interventions that mitigate system-level burnout rates and improve physician well-being.
  • International Conference on Physician Health – a biennial meeting held this October in Orlando, Fla. that brings together the AMA, British Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association to support health and well-being in the ranks of physicians and medical students.
  • Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program – an AMA distinction, now in its third year, that recognizes health systems with a demonstrated commitment to pursue proven strategies that reduce work-related burnout among care teams.
  • Debunking Regulatory Myths – a series created by the AMA that provides physicians and their care teams with resources to reduce guesswork and administrative burdens and focus on streamlining clinical workflow processes, improving patient outcomes and increasing physician satisfaction.

The AMA continues to work on every front to address the physician burnout crisis. Through our research, collaborations, advocacy and leadership, the AMA is working to make the patient‐physician relationship more valued than paperwork, preventive care the focus of the future, technology an asset and not a burden, and physician burnout a thing of the past.

NCMS is dedicated to helping our members and to reducing the number of physician suicides in North Carolina and across the country.  On our website you will find resources to improve your health and well being.  Please visit it by clicking here.

If you, a colleague, friend, or loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide & Crisis Hotline at 9-8-8 immediately.