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Study identifies work-related stressors prior to physician suicide

September 1, 2022

Physical and mental health problems, financial difficulties and relationship conflicts were among the work-related stressors physicians faced prior to their suicides, a recent study found.

Previous studies have shown that physicians with suicidal ideation are more likely to have job-related problems than those who aren’t contemplating suicide. However, little is known about the nature of such problems.

The authors of this study used inductive thematic analysis and natural language processing to identify themes in death investigation narratives that described the circumstances surrounding the suicides of 200 physicians with known job-related problems. The narratives were written by medical examiners and law enforcement officers and submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. 

Most of the physicians were male (84%), White (90%) and married (63%). Their mean age was 53.

The analyses identified six themes:

  • physical health problems (acute and chronic) made it difficult or impossible to work;
  • mental health problems (e.g., anxiety or depression due to work stress or long-term issues) affected work;
  • relationship conflicts (e.g., divorce, mistreatment by colleagues) affected work;
  • substance use jeopardized their job;
  • legal problems (e.g., malpractice suits) caused work-related stress; and
  • financial problems (e.g., due to practice closure) were increasing.

The authors acknowledged that the reasons for the suicides may not be completely known since the narratives were based on reports from loved ones. However, they offered several suggestions to inform suicide prevention interventions based on their findings.

First, they noted that physicians traditionally have neglected their own needs to care for others.

“The culture of medicine must shift away from its outdated mandate of extreme self-sacrifice and embrace changes that promote optimal physician health as an avenue to improved patient care,” they wrote.

They also called for confidential treatment for mental health and substance use problems, supportive work environments and personal finance education in medical school.

“In accordance with the Hippocratic Oath, physicians swear to apply all measures required to heal the sick, and it is time to recognize that this applies even when the patient is one’s self or colleague,” the authors concluded.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, call or text 988 or chat at

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