I would like to thank Dr. Peggy Naas for her recent article Tackling and Preventing Physician Suicide. I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Peggy makes in this article. We need to talk more about physician suicide and offer more support. To that end, I would like to share a story with you.
Dean Lorich was an orthopaedic trauma surgeon in New York, well known to many of us in the specialty, who took his life in the fall of 2017. In the weeks after Dean Lorich’s death, I thought a lot about the dangers of not talking about surgeon burnout and depression.
I was reminded of Dr. Lorich after treating a patient in Olympia, Washington just a few weeks after Dean’s death. A couple of years prior to my meeting this patient, she was in New York City and suffered a low energy femur fracture while on the subway. She was taken to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) where Dean Lorich was on-call. He ended up repairing her femur fracture. Small world.
A couple months following Dr. Lorich’s death, I received via mail the journal that HSS sends out three times per year. Paging through it, I didn’t find a single mention of him. This struck me as very odd, as he was usually highlighted in every issue for one reason or another. First, it’s strange that he was not discussed at all. An organization that holds themselves to be leaders in medicine and orthopaedics remaining silent about a subject like physician suicide is doing a huge disservice to all physicians and surgeons. What an opportunity to discuss this important subject. About 6 months after his suicide there was a mention of condolences and Dr Lorich’s passing in the HSS journal, but it was not especially prominent.
The whole thing troubled me – and continues to – in a visceral way that I can’t shake.
Physician suicide has known risk factors, and support systems should be put into place to ensure that those physicians who are at higher risk for suicide get the help they need. A vital ingredient will be needed to unlock the resources for such a system to be utilized. The key ingredient is the elimination of the stigma of mental health problems in this country. Whether it’s an addiction, depression, ADHD, or something else – if we continue to undertreat and even ignore mental health problems, suicide prevention is not going to improve. Removing stigma can start with individual physicians, but it will eventually need to filter up to hospitals, health systems, payors, state medical boards, and national medical organizations.
If you know of someone in your family or your community, support them any way you can. Reach out to physicians in your community, even the seemingly happy or successful ones, and ask them honestly, like you really want to know, “How are you?” If they respond “ok,” you might ask, “Why just ok?” or ”How Can I Help?” Be ready to listen and offer support. Thank you for asking.
About the Author – Ryan Will, MD
Dr. Ryan Will is a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon specializing in trauma care. After finishing his orthopaedic residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot in Erie, Pennsylvania, he completed an orthopaedic trauma fellowship at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. When he is not seeing patients or coaching, Dr. Will enjoys hiking, mountain climbing, cooking, and spending time with his family.