I had an exciting day yesterday. Not all happy, but exciting. I was invited to screenings of the documentary film 'Do No Harm' this week, both in Delaware and in Manhattan. If you haven't heard about 'Do No Harm', check out the webpage or the Facebook page for the film. It's a documentary produced by Robyn Symon, in collaboration with Pamela Wible, MD, a physician wellness advocate who has spoken out widely on the issue of physician suicide. The film focuses particularly on medical students and trainees, but really addresses the toxic environment of medicine in general, and its effects on the health of all overworked, overtired, overstressed physicians and trainees, as well as the trickle-down effect to patients.
If I'd gone to Manhattan, it would have been today and tomorrow, a two day extravaganzas of screenings, panel discussions, parties and a somber march in scrubs and white coat to protest the environment that leads to at least 400 physician suicides yearly, and to mourn the physicians lost to suicide. Pamela and Robyn are both in Manhattan today. I opted for the lower key option of a reception, screening and panel discussion at the Delaware Medical Society, sponsored by Christiana Health System yesterday, and the opportunity to spend some time with Robyn. Robyn is not only an incredibly talented filmmaker, but also just a very impressive presence- warm, funny, smart, knowledgeable, and very down-to-earth. She fit right in with this bunch of doctors as though she had gone to both medical school and film school. I have to say, after a few minutes with Robyn, I just felt like she was my friend.
I think everyone in medicine, especially in medical training environments, should see 'Do No Harm'. It is the clarion call for change in our medical culture. At these pre-release screenings, I think the audience is kind of the choir- we're the people who already know that there's a problem, and that's why we've chosen to show up for the screenings. People sponsoring the screenings are people most concerned with physician wellness, and the screenings are held at medical societies or other venues where there are professionals who 'get it'. But as this film really hits the media and gets out to a larger audience, hopefully it's going to tell this story to people who DON'T know, people who might not have a clue what's going on in medicine. The film, of course, brings a some story lines in for us to follow- stories of physicians who died of suicide or who wanted to but did not succeed and how they moved forward- and that is how our attention is held. But it also provides the important statistics and history and expert opinions that give these stories their teeth, and make us see how crucial it is to deal with this issue and to deal with it NOW, not next month or next year or next decade. It tells us that we can't keep just talking, that we can't keep blaming the physicians for not doing enough self-care, that we can't keep covering up the dirty little secret of 'burnout' and depression.
We are losing more lives to physician suicide than we are losing to school shootings and many other situations that are getting much more attention- but doctors seem to be expendable for some reason! It seems that our willingness to sacrifice ourselves is supposed to extend to more than our time and energy. This just can't go on.
So think about whether YOUR institution could get a screening of 'Do No Harm'. You won't be sorry.
Another exciting thing came out of my evening. I found out that Christiana Health System has a full Wellness Program in place for their physicians! Incredibly progressive! It's there for them 24/7, and is fully staffed with counselors and other professionals. They have collaborated with Stanford and other progressive health systems that are actually looking at the problem instead of sticking their heads in the sand. They are considering secondary trauma, work hours, the EMR, the burden of administrative tasks, the burden of depression, etc. They've been granted resources from administration. Money to keep their medical professionals well. Shocking! I'm not saying that they've solved the problem at this point, but it's a start. Meanwhile, most of the health systems in the Philadelphia area have nascent little physician wellness committees who can't get any resources to actually do anything for their physicians. I was impressed by Christiana. I was relieved to see that someone in the area has started something. Maybe a trend will follow? I don't want to be too sanguine, but it did give me just a little spark of hope for the future.