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National Physician Suicide Awareness Day—A Time to Reflect on Physician Well-Being

By: Jason Horay
3 Minute Read

The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly become one of the most significant global events in any of our lifetimes, impacting virtually all individuals and industries around the world. Operating on the front lines of efforts to protect their communities, physicians and healthcare professionals have assumed tremendous responsibility while simultaneously trying to adapt to the many new challenges this pandemic has introduced to the practice of medicine.

As a result, many clinicians are experiencing greater levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. While reports of these feelings within the healthcare community are not new, they have been significantly heightened in the face of COVID-19.

In fact, more than three-quarters of practices (78%) in North Carolina report that clinical staff seem stressed since the onset of COVID-19, according to a recent survey conducted by Curi, The North Carolina Medical Group Managers Association (NCMGMA), and the North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS).*

Furthermore, only 2% of surveyed North Carolina practices reported that their physicians or APPs had sought help for COVID-related mental or emotional issues.

On a national scale, The Physicians Foundation recently found that 50% of U.S. physicians surveyed have experienced inappropriate anger, tearfulness, or anxiety as a result of COVID-19’s effects on their practice or employment. However, only 13% of physicians have sought medical attention for a mental-health problem as a result of the pandemic’s effects. The complete findings of the Foundations’s 2020 Physician Survey: Part 2 can be found here.

When left un-recognized, these symptoms of burnout can lead to dire consequences as we continue to watch physician suicide rates increase year-over-year.

With today, September 17, marking National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, we should all take time to acknowledge, reflect, and consider solutions to address the many challenges that healthcare workers are experiencing every day. Physicians and medical providers are often perceived as self-reliant, emotionally stoic pillars of the medical community; however, it’s important that clinicians recognize their own humanity.

Doctors are people, too, and the demands of medicine often require a great deal of emotional support in an effort to maintain their mental well-being—especially in the time of COVID-19.

At Curi, we believe investments should be made to improve healthcare organizational culture to generate an environment that promotes greater mental and physical well-being. We seek to identify signs of professional burnout within individual practices and develop a vision for a path forward. To that end, our Risk Management Department will soon be introducing a Provider Well-Being Assessment to our members in an effort to better understand how to best support them through specific interventions, tools, and resources.

Here are some other resources that practice leaders can use to support the mental health of their staff and inform themselves on the topic of physician suicide:

  • Ensure staff are aware of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This service is available 24/7 across the U.S. Call 800.273.TALK (8255) or click here to chat with a counselor. For more information, visit their website here.
  • Tap into the Physicians Foundation’s Vital Signs initiative. This initiative seeks to empower physicians along with their colleagues and loved ones to check in on one another’s well-being. The organization’s HEART acronym can help identify the warning signs of someone who might be suicidal, and these conversation-starter tips are a useful tool for checking in with someone at risk.
  • Read up on facts about physician suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an informative handout with 10 Facts About Physician Suicide & Mental Health.
  • Use Curi’s Well-Being resources. Building comprehensive well-being strategies for your organization is a key foundation that can lead to better outcomes for your practice and your staff. These resources can be a starting point for helping to drive a culture of wellness, marked by more effective lifestyle choices and organizational strategies. Learn more here.

Curi remains committed to supporting physicians and their practices during this difficult time. Be encouraged by the possibility that this situation is forming us and inviting us to create new and meaningful ways to take care of people. In a crisis, we are required to think about the most important things people need from us as leaders. Let us emerge from this in life-giving ways.

If you have questions about these thoughts or how we can support the well-being of your employees further, please contact me at jason.horay@curi.com.

*About the NC Practice Well-Being Data Report

On March 29, 2020, NCMGMA, NCMS, and Curi started distributing the same set of questions to a collective e-distribution list on a regular basis. The goal was to garner a snapshot of North Carolina’s healthcare practices as we moved through the coronavirus pandemic. Certain weeks featured a subset of questions addressing specific segments of the business of healthcare: finance, telehealth, practice reopening, and practice well-being. The well-being survey was administered the week of June 1, 2020.

The information and data collected has been compiled and used anonymously to better understand the most acute and immediate needs, and to establish any trends to inform our policymakers on behalf of the physicians, PAs, practice administrators and the patients of North Carolina.

Jason Horay
Jason Horay is Curi’s Manager of Health Strategy and Well-Being, based in Raleigh, NC.
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