Graduating from medical school and starting residency training should be one of the most exciting times in a physician’s career. Instead, for two newly-minted New York City doctors, who ended their lives within a week of each other this summer, this period marked a morbid end. They represent a tragic and rarely discussed phenomenon in the medical profession: Doctors commit suicide at a rate more than twice the national average. Every year approximately 400 physicians take their own lives. That is roughly one per day, or the equivalent of two entire graduating medical classes each year.
As a recent graduate of an internal-medicine residency, I know that physician depression and suicide are not routinely discussed in medical school or training. Significant time is given in medical education on how to recognize depression and suicidal thoughts in patients, but never once did I hear of my own increased risk of suicide.
One might expect that older physicians, after years in an emotionally and often physically taxing profession, bear the burden of an increased suicide risk. But it is really a phenomenon of young physicians. Suicide accounts for 26 percent of deaths among physicians aged 25 to 39, as compared to 11 percent of deaths in the same age group in the general population.