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A perfect storm: towards reducing the risk of suicide in the medical profession

Ann I McCormack
Med J Aust 2018; 209 (9): 378-379. || doi: 10.5694/mja18.00221
Published online: 5 November 2018

Helping doctors build resilience may be protective against burnout and suicide in times of personal hardship

Having successive generations of doctors in one family — a “medical pedigree” — was once a source of great pride. As the daughter of a doctor and now a mother, I am surprised to find myself hoping my own children do not follow in my footsteps. This is not because of my own career dissatisfaction. In fact, my work is immensely rewarding, but recently, I have been reflecting on the hardships a medical career entails: the gruelling training pathway, the complex medical culture and the constant battle to achieve a work–life balance. I have now witnessed the devastating personal consequences when the rocky road seems impossible to navigate. Over a matter of months, two female junior doctors committed suicide, and more recently, suicide entered my inner circle with the death of one my close male colleagues. Such stories are not unusual in our profession. I do not claim any expertise in this field, but what seems clear to me is that inherent traits in the individuals who choose a career in medicine, and often create excellent doctors, also set them up for high rates of distress. We have a medical workforce that has gone through rapid evolutionary change, and if we combine these factors with exposure to dysfunctional aspects of our medical culture or personal stressors, we have ingredients for a perfect storm.

  • Ann I McCormack1,2

  • 1 St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, NSW
  • 2 Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, NSW

Correspondence: a.mccormack@garvan.org.au

Acknowledgements: 

I thank Yael Barnett for assistance in setting up Vinnies Women in Medicine and reviewing a draft of this manuscript.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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