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Suicide Compared to Other Causes of Mortality in Physicians

Authors

  • Dario M. Torre MD, MPH,

    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • Nae-Yuh Wang PhD,

    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • Lucy A. Meoni ScM,

    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • J. Hunter Young MD, MHS,

    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • Michael J. Klag MD, MPH,

    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • Professor Daniel E. Ford MD, MPH

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.
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  • This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (awards: 1-R01-AG01760, 2-T32-DK07732, 1-K24-DK02856).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Daniel E. Ford, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University, 2024 East Monument Street, Baltimore, MD 21287-0007; E-mail: dford@jhmi.edu.

Abstract

Physicians frequently are early adopters of healthy behaviors based on their knowledge and economic resources. The mortality patterns of physicians in the United States, particularly suicide, have not been rigorously described for over a decade. Previous studies have shown lower all-cause mortality among physicians yet reported conflicting results about cause-specific mortality such as suicide. In this study, we compared all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a sample of physicians to the age-gender matched general U.S. population from 1948 through 1998. We also compared the mortality experience across medical specialities. The risk of all-cause mortality was 56% lower than expected in men, and 26% lower in women, compared to the general population. Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were markedly lower for diseases strongly linked to smoking, e.g., cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. Suicide was the only cause of death where risk was greater than the general population. Overall, we found that physicians are at substantially lower risk of dying compared to the general population for all causes of death except suicide. The findings for suicide are strikingly different than other causes of death and should provide impetus for new research on the mental health of physicians.

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