The Medical Honors Program (MHP) promotes collaboration and mentorship between MHP alumni and current students. It was our honor to talk to MHP alumnus, Dr. Steven Reid, and learn about his non-profit organization called, Doctor Lifeline. Dr. Reid was a part of the Junior Honors Medical Program (JHMP) and graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 1979. He stayed in Gainesville and successfully completed his general surgery internship and neurosurgery residency at Shands. He remained in Gainesville and has an impressive history of appointments, research positions, and work in private practices. When reflecting on his time in the MHP, he fondly remarks on the camaraderie the program fostered between him and other students. He also credits the MHP with helping him discover his passion for neurosurgery early in his medical career, and then facilitating subsequent professional connections.
In 2018, Dr. Reid started Doctor Lifeline, a non-profit organization working to prevent physician suicides. Currently, there are reports of 400 U.S. physician suicides per year and this is likely to be an underestimate of the true number. The suicide rate for male doctors is 41% higher than the general population and for female doctors, it is 127% higher than the general population. When describing the issue of physician suicide, Dr. Reid explained a few of the multifaceted influences that can lead a physician to make this choice. These factors include burn out, moral injury, learned helplessness, human rights violations, and how technology, such as electronic medical records, can breed a toxic environment. When asked to elaborate, Dr. Reid explained that he believes learned helplessness is the biggest influencer. Specifically, it is a phenomenon in which the physician suffers from a feeling of powerlessness, arising from a persistent failure to succeed. For instance, if a physician is continuously refused a resource they feel their patients would benefit from, at some point the physician stops asking, because they feel there is no longer a point. Learned helplessness can arise from many situations and can be established in a physician by other physicians, administration, insurance companies, etc. It is not usually the fault of one person, but rather derived from a system that needs change.
When asked about the higher rates of suicide in female physicians as compared to male physicians, Dr. Reid expressed that underlying prejudice within the male-dominated field of medicine could play a role. However, it is enlightening to see the field continue to evolve with more women in it and that hopefully, statistics will improve. Dr. Reid emphasized that medicine is an incredibly noble field, but many protocols that have created efficiency have also altered the role of the physician and their autonomy in deciding a patient’s treatment. While hopeful for the future, Dr. Reid is worried that the healthcare system will be resistant to making the changes it needs to help its physicians. This is why Doctor Lifeline will continue to raise awareness, enact plans to mitigate these issues, and ultimately prevent physician suicide.
To current medical students, Dr. Reid recommends that you designate a classmate as your “battle buddy.” This person is someone that you can be vulnerable with and talk through both your struggles and triumphs. For those already working in the medical field, Dr. Reid stresses the importance of work-life balance. He strongly suggests that you take the vacation days you are permitted, regardless of others’ opinions. He also suggests that you set aside the time you need to digest your work and be a person outside of the healthcare profession. Finally, if you are ever in a position where you are in a bad mental state or are contemplating suicide, please talk to someone. There are ways to help your situation and you are not alone. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time at 1-800-273-8255 or the Physician Support Line made up of 600+ psychiatrists, at 1-888-409-0141.
If you are interested in supporting Doctor Lifeline in its mission to prevent physician suicides, you can make a tax-deductible donation on their website www.doctorlifeline.org. Or the next time you shop on Amazon, you can donate part of your purchase to Doctor Lifeline through smile.amazon.com.
MHP greatly appreciates Dr. Reid for sharing Doctor Lifeline’s mission with us, and we wish him success in his future endeavors.