Updated: Nov 1, 2019
To my fellow Americans:
1 million of us will lose our doctor by suicide this year.
Our healthcare system will not change if it continues to kill the physicians who need change most.
This past weekend the Washington Post published this article, and I found it too important not to share. I highly recommend reading, if you haven't already:
I remember the day my dream died: May 8th, 2013.
Graduating from medical school in 2012, I already had MD behind my name and was in my 11th month of residency.
The brick was warm beneath my thighs as I sat on the windowsill of my 4th story loft above the Tacoma docks, looking down.
I had just been involuntarily dismissed from work, indefinitely, on grounds of questionable mental stability.
The road back would mean hoops of psychiatrists, psychologists, neuro-behaviorists, pills, testing...if it even led back. Getting this far meant I was already in $250,000 of debt. A quarter million dollars...before even beginning to practice. With my residency salary, I was not quite keeping the interest at bay. I knew I had 4 weeks of paid leave, that was it, before I would drown.
Hundreds of new graduates from medical school actually find themselves in this position each year, as their number exceeds the number of residency spots available in this country, and without at least one year of residency, a doctor can't practice. Despite the 8+ years of training they have already had.
I DID have a residency spot though, in a top program, which meant regular 80 hour weeks, days without sleep, an emergency department with constant trauma, broken bodies, broken lives and little time to process.
Except now, I was sitting on the ledge, deciding whether to lose it all, or bow my head, accept the diagnosis of a mental illness, and walk back into Western medicine as both doctor and patient, while fighting for my sanity.
When Pamela first blogged about my story and shared the video she had filmed during some of our time together, my initial response was not one of pride or accomplishment, but one of horror. I wanted to email her immediately and tell her to take it down.
Having a video on the internet where I openly described my struggles seemed rather counterintuitive when I had spent years trying to keep the whole incident as quiet as possible. "It will be so hard to get my Alaska license!", I thought. "No one will ever hire me again!" and "patients aren't going to want me as their doctor!" were just a few of the many [unhelpful] thoughts that surfaced in the following days.
What actually happened next though, surprised me. Medical students, residents and doctors started coming forward, thanking me for sharing my story.
I realized then, that if even one of these precious healer's lives was saved by hearing my story, it's worth it.
What my initial reaction illustrates is something very insidious and dangerous continues to work in my life. What I am referring to here, is shame.
This book was gifted to me by a family nurse practitioner, at the end of her career, as we sat in ceremony together this summer in Death Valley.
Dr. Kayla's 2018 Booklist Pick #4:
Soul Without Shame
A Guide To Liberating Yourself From the Judge Within
As members of the medical profession, leading rates of mental unrest and subsequent suicide are what we have lurking in the undertow.
These are the stories we now need to tell, otherwise they become the ones holding us back.
I also remember the day I rediscovered my dream, in full-bloom.
It was January 7th, 2018, as I sat in circle with 40 other women at the inaugural event of our nonprofit wellness center, that I recognized in real flesh and blood, the dream that inspired me to fill out all those medical school applications.
Today I continually get to work at shaping myself into the healer I am destined to become, because like Dr. Pamela Wible, I survived. For too many of our colleagues, though, that is not the case.
If we, as Americans, want a different healthcare system, it is the time to stand up for something different.
What can you do?
Share with your doctor what your dream is for the future of medicine.
My clinic was created 100% by ideas from my patients.
We meet regularly to discuss our ongoing vision and make changes as we go.
There are more grass-roots clinics like ours opening every day. When patients and physicians work together, the results are astounding.
If you are a doctor, medical student, or resident that is struggling:
There is hope and there is [true] help.
Contact me, anytime.
We're all in this together.
Dr. Kayla, MD