In recognition of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, The Physicians Foundation, has announced the launch of Vital Signs, a campaign to help raise greater awareness about the physician suicide epidemic and to provide physicians the tools to attend to their own wellbeing.
“One physician commits suicide every day, the highest suicide rate of any profession and more than twice that of the general population,” said Gary Price, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation. “These are our mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They are human beings who deal with emotional and physical pain, and neurocognitive issues, like depression and anxiety, all of which are exacerbated by very stressful careers. We cannot continue to lose so many talented and caring professionals every year.”
Vital Signs is designed to empower physicians, their colleagues and loved ones, to check in on one another’s wellbeing. Ultimately, this will help destigmatize the negativity around physicians seeking help for their mental health. The campaign uses an educational webpage to help understand the warning signs to look for in someone who may be suicidal. In addition, Vital Signs provides a guide to help start a conversation with a physician about whom a colleague may be concerned.
“To make progress in addressing physician suicide, we must address the persistent stigma surrounding seeking mental help in the profession and the lack of organizational support for physicians coping with the traumatic events and burdens that take away from the joy of practicing medicine. The reasons for suicide are multifactorial but there is no doubt that long term stress and burnout contribute to a greater risk of suicide among physicians,” noted Dr. Price. “Vital Signs is an effort to reduce that stigma and to get physicians to check in with one another.”
The Vital Signs campaign is part of the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to protect physician wellbeing, including addressing burnout, which can have devastating effects on the access, quality and cost of our country’s health care. It’s estimated that one million Americans lose their physician to suicide each year.
In 2018, the Foundation released results from a nationwide survey, which revealed 78% of physicians experienced burnout due to factors such as loss of clinical autonomy, electronic health record (EHR) challenges and barriers to addressing patients’ social needs that are directly impacting their health outcomes. To combat the main drivers of burnout and improve physician wellbeing, the Foundation is focused on:
- Clinical autonomy: Collaborating with the American Medical Association to extend its Practice Transformation Initiative to support state medical societies in engaging health organizations representing 1,000+ physicians adapt, thrive and enhance professional satisfaction while reducing burnout;
- EHRs: Facilitating The Physicians Foundation Interoperability Fund to assist medical practices in six states in effectively sharing clinical information with other physicians and hospitals through health information exchanges; and
- Patient Social Needs: Working with The Health Initiative to advance three states’ efforts to integrate social determinants of health into care delivery and payment models to improve patients’ lives and mitigate physician burnout.
The Foundation is also supporting the following physician wellbeing efforts across the country:
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Women’s Wellness through Equity and Leadership
- Association of Women Surgeons Foundation: Coaching Program to Address Burnout in Women Surgery Residents
- Baylor Scott & White Central Texas Foundation: Leadership Development as a Unique Tool to Fight Burnout in Women Physicians
- Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University: Development and Evaluation of an Opinion Leader Based Initiative to Create a Culture of Wellness
- Community Service Education and Research Foundation of SSVMS: Joy of Medicine
- Family Health Center of Worcester: An Innovative Model for a Comprehensive Physician Wellness Program
- Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute: Mentoring to Promote Professional Fulfillment and Reduce Burnout in a Department of Medicine
- Massachusetts General Hospital: Reaching Their Personal Best: Coaching for Professional Development and Wellbeing
- Mayo Clinic: RCT: Effect of Coaching on Mid-Career Physician Wellbeing, Job Satisfaction, & Fulfillment
- Metro Omaha Medical Society Foundation: Provider Wellness Initiative
- Mount Sinai Medical Center: Innovations in Physician Wellness: Transforming Culture, Redesigning Systems, Promoting Wellbeing
- Physicians for a Healthy California: Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations: Reducing Stress and Physician Burnout
- Regents of University of California, San Diego: Mindful Mental Training Physicians: Stress Resilience and Wellbeing
- Travis County Medical Society Foundation: Physician Wellness Program Development Initiative
- Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation: Healthy Healer Program
To explore Vital Signs, visit www.physiciansfoundation.org/vitalsigns. The website is intended for educational purposes only. If you need further guidance or are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) for free 24/7 support.