CHICAGO — The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted policy during its Annual meeting today 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 U.S.

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 for long-term studies. 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, M.D. “We will continue working to reduce burnout and increase access to mental health services for physicians and physicians-in-training—improving their well-being 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.

In alignment with the policy adopted today, the AMA recently developed an education module that will help physicians, residents, and medical students learn about 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. The new module is available on the AMA Ed HubTM.

The policy adopted today builds on the AMA’s continued efforts to prevent physician burnout and improve wellness, and support physicians throughout their career journey. Through the AMA’s Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative launched in 2013, the AMA is partnering with physicians, leaders, and policymakers to reduce the complexity and costs of practicing medicine so physicians can continue to put patients first. As part of this work, the AMA’s Steps Forward program offers a series of practice transformation modules designed to improve the health and well-being of patients by improving the health and well-being of physicians and their practices. These online modules focus on improving physician wellness, preventing burnout, and increasing resilience.

The AMA has also adopted numerous policies over the past several years to reduce physician burnout and create the medical school of the future to ensure a healthier practice environment for physicians and close the gaps that exist in medical education to improve the health of the nation.

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Kelly Jakubek

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About the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.