8 weeks ago I lost one of my closest friends at my residency program. His name was Stephen. It was a Thursday and he was having a rough time through residency and we all saw it. We saw it because we also live it everyday. The day he went home and committed suicide was just like any other day. We were in clinic, he saw all of his patients and finished up all the notes. We are required to go to academics in the afternoon on Thursdays but he didn’t show. I had seen him just 15 minutes before when he was talking to one of our attendings. I didn’t interrupt the conversation because I figured I would talk to him later. I wanted to give him a hug because I had grown accustomed to giving my friends hugs on Thursdays since we all saw each other at academics. “Thursday hug day” is what I’ve been calling it all year. Although I haven’t given very many hugs since.
I miss him every day and unfortunately he is not the first friend I have lost to suicide. That box I carry around just became so much heavier. He had the biggest heart and he wore it on his sleeve. You could see it in the way he took care of his patients and his friends. He was always there for me. I struggled early on in my intern year because I was insecure and felt that I needed to prove myself and my capabilities to my residency program. I ended up in an awful spiral down because the more I felt I was being watched the harder it was to answer the attendings barrage of questions even when I knew the answers. I was anxious and insecure but Stephen saw that I was struggling. He witnessed a day where I was so nervous that I could barely present a patient on rounds. He pulled me aside and told me to let all of my insecurities go. He told me to stop worrying about what the attendings said or how judged I felt and just care for my patients. He helped me change my thinking by changing the focus from myself to making sure that every presentation was about advocating for my patient and making sure that they were getting the care that they needed to improve. When I started fighting for them and making sure I got the patients story correct on rounds, I started improving automatically.
We lose something in medical education. I’m still trying to figure out what all I lost in the process so far. We come into it for good reasons but the system continues to break us. We constantly hear about how bad it was for the previous generation but why does this need to be so soul crushing at all. Some how the humanity of medicine gets lost and with it we lose beautiful people who simply wanted to help. Stephen made me a better human and a better doctor just by being him. We saw how much he was struggling but we also all had to have our blinders on to get through our days. Medicine leaves so little room to look at what is happening with the world beyond your own personal peripheral vision. We try to do right by our patients every day and we are judged for our compassion but time and time again I see how some of us don’t have compassion for those struggling with us or those behind or ahead of us who are on the same path. Some thing has to change and I read so many articles and watch so mane youtube videos about physician/med student suicide. Some programs have multiple suicides in a year. I see my colleagues and I struggling without a suicide in the program let alone having one.
The culture of medicine needs to change…