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Mayo Clinic Joins Efforts to Prevent Physician Suicide

News  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   December 09, 2016

Researchers from Mayo have teamed up with the ACGME and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to provide resources for medical professionals, who are often afraid to seek help.

Three prominent healthcare organizations are joining forces to prevent suicide among physicians and medical trainees.

Mayo Clinic, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) introduced a library of educational resources, which are available on the ACGME website.

Instead of Denying Emotions, Physicians Can Learn from Them

Physicians have higher rates of depression and suicide than the general population, but are less likely to seek mental health treatment because they fear stigma and sanctions, according to the AFSP.

An estimated 300 physicians die by suicide in the United States each year. In addition, 28% of residents experience a major depressive episode during training, versus 7% to 8% of similarly aged individuals in the U.S. general population. Twenty-three percent of interns had suicidal thoughts, according to the AFSP.

The new suicide-prevention resources include a four-minute video that advises medical students, residents, and fellows on how to support each other, express concern to peers, and encourage help-seeking behavior.

What Physicians Can Do to Prevent Suicide

A guide to help graduate training programs respond to a resident suicide, access to support, and other information is also available. The three organizations will add more resources to the library, they stated.

"We want to be part of a national dialogue that addresses physician well-being and leads to transformational change—to a more humane learning environment for all medical education and a healthier culture for all physicians," Thomas J. Nasca, MD, MACP, CEO of the ACGME, said in a statement.

Physician Burnout
Mayo researchers are also studying other aspects of physician well-being. They have been documenting the rise in physician burnout and its commensurate costs for more than a decade.

Researchers proposed nine strategies healthcare organizations can use to slow or reverse the incidence of physician burnout. They were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings:

  1. Acknowledging and assessing the problem
  2. Recognizing the behaviors of leaders that can increase or decrease burnout
  3. Using a systems approach to develop targeted interventions to improve efficiency and reduce clerical work
  4. Cultivating community at work
  5. Using rewards and incentives strategically
  6. Assessing whether the organizations actions are aligned with the stated values and mission
  7. Implementing organizational practices and policies that promote flexibility and work-life balance
  8. Providing resources to help individuals promote self-care
  9. Supporting organizational science (Study the factors in your own institution that contribute to the problem, and invest in solutions.)

The authors conclude that "deliberate, sustained and comprehensive efforts by the organization to reduce burnout and promote engagement can make a difference."

1 in 2 Physicians Demoralized, Dissatisfied

Other Mayo Clinic research last year showed that good leadership can reduce burnout.

In 2013, nearly 3,000 Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists responded to a survey about their wellbeing in the workplace. They were asked not only to rate themselves on burnout and satisfaction, but also to evaluate their supervisors, who were physicians and scientists themselves, in 12 dimensions of leadership.

Forty percent of the respondents reported at least one symptom of burnout.

Researchers were able to link burnout rates to how well the physicians rated their leaders. For every one-point improvement in the 60-point leadership score, there was a 3.3% decrease in likelihood of burnout and a 9% increase in job satisfaction.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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