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This book includes real suicide letters—the last words of medical students and doctors. I’m an average test-taker, though I excel with patients. But it’s difficult to be happy (or to help people) in a medical culture that condones hazing, bullying, sexual harassment, and teaching by public humiliation. And, I thought I was the only doctor who felt this way. I followed their instructions and opened their ideal clinic—the first clinic designed entirely by patients!
Also included are letters from surviving family members, colleagues, and patients. Some names have been changed upon request to safeguard the careers of those who have written to me. Even though I still have a sparkle in my eyes and joy in my heart, a piece of me is missing. In my school, there seemed to be no end to the filthy jokes that demeaned female patients and classmates. After a decade of seven-minute visits at assembly-line clinics, I was nothing more than a factory worker. I started writing and speaking about my dream-come-true clinic, how I survived med school, and how I recovered from my occupationally induced depression and suicidal thoughts. I started getting letters from suicidal medical students and doctors. Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide, and nobody ever tells patients the truth—the real reason they can’t see their doctors ever again.
Most letters are from actively suicidal physicians seeking my help. Meet six of the physicians we lost to suicide below: Despite it all, I remain an optimist. In lectures, my instructors actually made fun of vegetarians for eating “health food.” When I protested the dog labs (as first-year medical students we had to kill dogs), the dean diagnosed me with “Bambi Syndrome.” I was belittled because I cared—about animals, about people, about my own health, and about this planet we call home. Nobody talks about our doctors jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels.
I cried my way through the first year of medical school. One night I cried so much that I awoke the next day with my eyelids swollen shut. I survived by clinging to my dream of being a caring family physician, of making house calls, of being a trusted and loving neighborhood doctor. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.
As long as my tears kept flowing, I knew I would be okay. I graduated from med school, completed residency, and got a job. No medical school wants to be known as the “Suicide School.” No hospital wants to be #1 for interns jumping from rooftops.
No student wants to become a doctor in order to kill themselves. Why did both doctors I dated in med school die by suicide?
It’s the ultimate oxymoron: the barefoot shoemaker, the starving chef, the suicidal doctor. Why is the plague of physician and medical student suicide such a secret? I’m a solo family doc, yet somehow I’ve become an investigative reporter, a specialist in physician suicide. Why did eight doctors kill themselves—just in my sweet little Oregon town? Finding them requires being willing to look at some very disturbing facts.It also requires the willingness to engage with people who have experienced and who continue to experience a great deal of pain.