Medical Student Debt Leads To Thoughts Of Suicide and Burnout

Having worked for years in the medical field I applaud anyone that decides that they want to become a doctor. But I’ve met my share of people that seem to have become doctors for “the money” or who once they became doctors, wanted to do something else with their lives.

Being a doctor is not easy, but being a medical student today is even harder. With student loan debt for medical school and studies, escalating, it is not unusual for doctors to wind up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

I’ve talked about the side effects of debt a lot. The depression, unhappiness, stress, lack of focus, etc. that comes a a byproduct of debt is not helpful when you are trying to focus on delivering excellent patient care.

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And our medical system is under assault. Medical debts are the leading cause of bankruptcy for consumers. people can’t afford medical insurance. Doctors malpractice premiums are unbelievably high. Medical technology costs a fortune but does not make care better. And needed changes in the way medical care is delivered in the United States may force down doctor salaries, even as they are carrying forward all this debt and obligations.

New doctors in training are going through the toughest days. They are struggling to make it through medical school and their residencies with little sleep and much doubt.

A 2006 study, Personal Life Events and Medical Student Burnout, by Dr. Dyrbe, found that

Burnout appears common among U.S. medical students and may increase by year of schooling. Despite the notion that burnout is primarily linked to work-related stress, personal life events also demonstrated a strong relationship to professional burnout. The authors’ findings suggest both personal and curricular factors are related to burnout among medical students. Efforts to decrease burnout must address both of these elements.

Dr Pauline Chew wrote a recent article in the New York Times, Medical Student Burnout and the Challenge to Patient Care, where she said:

Medical school was not easy for me. I knew that I wanted to become a doctor to help people, but I had given little thought to the process. I was poorly prepared for many things: the pressure to excel in ways that seemed so far from caring for people; rapidly mounting debts I signed off on every semester; a roller coaster existence from chronic lack of sleep; hazing from the more experienced students and residents; and the realities of patient suffering despite my best efforts.

Her statements really resonated with me. You see in the many years I have been helping people with debt problems, a number of those clients were medical students or young doctors, working hard to finish their studies and reach the golden paycheck.

See also  We Are Suffocating in Student Loan Debt. It's Killing Us.

Thoughts of Doctor Suicide Related to Level of Debt

In response to another inquiry, Dr. Dyrbye noted:

We agree that debt is a substantial source of stress for today’s medical student. As reported, students reporting >$100,000 of educational debt had a 1.47 greater odds of suicidal ideation during the previous year than students with <$50,000 in reported debt on univariate analysis.

It is hard enough to become a doctor and to focus on being the best medical caregiver you can, but add on top of that the massive debts incurred and the uncertainty of future income, it would not surprise me at all to see rising levels of burnout and suicidal thoughts among future classes.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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