Insight, Inspiration, Motivation

Burnout – Surgeons Consider Suicide

A national survey conducted by the American College of Surgeons reported that 1 in 16 surgeons considered committing suicide! (Shanafelt TD, et al “Suicidal ideation among American surgeons” Arch Surg 2011; 146(1): 54-62).  7905 (31%) of those surveyed took part in the anonymously conducted survey in 2008. What is most disturbing is that, of those who admitted to contemplating suicide, only one in four sought help. Burnout and depression were independently associated with suicidal ideation, according to the survey. The paper concluded that studies are required to determine how to eliminate Suicidal Ideation among surgeons and how to eliminate barriers to their use of mental health resources.

In today’s world, we are spending millions to make our bodies healthier. Governments are offering subsidies for exercise programs in schools, weight loss clinics are mushrooming all around us, smoking cessation programs receive great support, yoga, Pilates, zumba, and a number of other activities have also become intensely popular, to the point that if you do not take part in one or other of these activities, you are seen as a sloth!

Isn’t it ironic, then, that when it comes to mental health, all we can talk about is – SECONDARY or TERTIARY CARE – that is, treat the mental illness, preferably by a specialist, AFTER it has caused enough damage?

I would like to see us try to focus on our day-to-day lives – and try to achieve a certain mental energy – and maintain it fairly evenly, recharging ourselves intermittently. If we could manage to attain such a level of inner balance, at least 50 percent of the time, we could totally avoid the burnout, and the consequent mental problems that require treatment.

This, which I call mental HEALTH PROMOTION – I have achieved in my own life through life coaching, and daily reflection. It keeps me balanced, for much of the time, and makes  it easier to recover, the rest of the time.


December 6, 2011 - Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement


  1. I am not surprised by these statistics, when you consider that universities generally insist that candidates for admission to medicine be intense bookworms with really high marks–in other words, study-obsessed students without a life. The pursue an intense regimen of studies that herd them into a high pressure occupation with still no regard for how they live as human beings.

    How can such beings relate to their patients as anything but specimens? How can they relate to life? How can they admit to human weakness when their whole raison d’etre is to be flawless technicians/clinicians? The whole process of developing surgeons makes no sense in human terms.

    My father was an intense dental surgeon, and such an unhappy man who drank himself into an early grave.


    Comment by Doug Hill | December 6, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi, Doug,
      That might have been true one generation or two ago. A lot of physicians today go to med school after having done other things in life, and even those that haven’t, tend to maintain various interests outside medicine. I guess it is really the stress from various sources that wears them down.
      Also, most physicians think that they have to be the strong ones, in both their professional and personal lives that they often find it hard to recognise or admit to having any difficulty coping with those stresses, until they get out of hand.


      Comment by kindlelife | December 7, 2011 | Reply

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