Vanderbilt Study on Physician Suicide Risk

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Vanderbilt Study on Physician Suicide Risk

A recent study done by Vanderbilt University of 141 Tennessee physicians evaluated for fitness-for-duty assessments found an “astoundingly” high rate of suicide if the physician was 1) found unfit to practice, 2) was in solo practice, or 3) if he/she was taking benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs).

The retrospective analysis found seven of the 141 physicians attempted suicide and five died -- a rate 175 times higher than the comparable rate of the general Tennessee population.

“Being found unfit for practice means a loss of income, loss of social contact and loss of social status. It’s very distressing” said Reid Finlayson, MD, associate professor of Clinical Psychiatry and medical director of the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program.

Dr. Finlayson said that physicians who work in a solo practice can feel isolated. “Doctors who are in large practices or who work in a hospital have colleagues who can see what’s going on with them. They’re observed and they can be pointed toward getting help.” The intense nature of medical practice today makes it important to be able to identify physicians who are at risk so that appropriate preventive actions may be taken.

Interestingly, of the five physicians who died by suicide, three were being investigated for their prescribing habits. This “suggests that doctors who are taking benzodiazepines may self-prescribe...”

Dr. Finlayson added that upon review of the physicians’ interviews and extensive testing that had been done, there was little indication of future suicidal behavior. He hopes that effective predictor techniques will soon be developed. He also has determined that he will be more insistent that the physician who is taking benzodiazepines detoxify, as it appears to be a definite risk factor for suicide.

Quotes taken from General Hospital Psychiatry, June 28, 2014, online edition