The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted policy during its Annual Meeting in June aimed at better understanding the incidence of depression and suicide among physicians and physicians-in-training. With reports showing a lack of systematic reporting and inconsistencies in available data, the new policy offers recommendations on studying and collecting data that better reflect the actual incidence of and risk factors for physician, medical student and resident suicide in the United States.

Specifically, the policy calls for the AMA to explore the viability and cost-effectiveness of regularly collecting National Death Index (NDI) data, as well as confidentially maintaining manner of death information for physicians, residents and medical students listed as deceased in the AMA Physician Masterfile. Accordingly, the AMA plans to partner with a leading academic medical institution to conduct a pilot study using NDI to initially identify manner of death for a subset of the AMA Masterfile population.

“While it has been reported that the incidence of depression and suicide is greater in medical students, residents and physicians than the general population, it is vitally important that we take action now to fully understand the actual impact of suicide on our physician workforce. Our goal is to have access to data that will help us identify the systemic patterns and risk factors that lead to suicide, and ultimately help us prevent it,” said AMA Board Member S. Bobby Mukkamala, MD. “We will continue working to reduce burnout and increase access to mental health services for physicians and physicians-in-training – improving their wellbeing and leading to better health outcomes for their patients.”

The new policy also supports educating faculty members, residents and medical students to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout and depression and supports access to free, confidential, and immediately available stigma-free mental health and substance use disorder services.

A new education module available on the AMA Ed Hub will help participants better understand the risks of physician suicide, identify characteristics to look for in patients who may be at risk of harming themselves, and recognize the warning signs of potential suicide risk in colleagues. Additionally, the AMA’s Steps Forward program offers a series of practice transformation modules designed to improve the health and wellbeing of patients by improving the health and wellbeing of physicians and their practices. These online modules focus on improving physician wellness, preventing burnout and increasing resilience.

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