Physician suicide rate and risk by specialty

Every year sadly around 300 to 400 physicians die by suicide every year. Alarmingly the results from a 10-minute 2021 survey by Medscape involving 13,069 physicians showed that around 1 in 10 physicians had thoughts about or attempted suicide. 10% of male and 13% of female doctors said that their colleagues or other physicians had told them that they were having suicidal thoughts.

One 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis found that female doctors and US physicians (compared to the rest of the world) had a higher risk of suicide. The results showed that anesthesiologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, and general surgeons might be at a higher risk of suicide compared to other specialties.

The high risk of suicides among anaesthesiologists could be explained by easy access to potentially lethal drugs, a high burnout rate, poor autonomy, and conflicts with colleagues. For psychiatrists, the high risk of suicides has been linked to stressful and traumatic experiences such as dealing with patient suicides.

With moral isolation, work that interfered with family life, numerous interruptions at home and at work, growing administrative burdens, and high patient expectations, general practitioners were also at risk of poor mental health and low job satisfaction.

The heightened stress and responsibilities of surgery and emergency medicine may perhaps play a role in causing suicidal thoughts and tendencies in physicians.

Suicidal thoughts by doctor specialty

Graph showing suicide rate of different physician specialities
Graph showing physician suicide rate by specialty

Pathology had the highest rate of suicidal thoughts 13% followed by surgery (12%), Oncology (12%), Infectious diseases (11%), and emergency medicine (11%).

Suicidal thoughts and tendencies by gender

As you can see from the graph above fairly similar percentages of male and female physicians have contemplated suicide.

How physicians open up about suicidal thoughts

Graph showing how physicians open up about their suicidal thoughts

34% to 44% of each generation of doctors never opened up about their suicidal thoughts. Whilst 44% of boomers never opened up, 36% confided in a therapist and 31% spoke to a family member.

On the other hand, 44% of millennials and 37% of Generation X opened up to a family member.

Whilst 35% of millennials talked to a friend or colleague about their suicidal thoughts this was only true for 26% of Generation X and 23% of boomers.

35% to 36% of doctors of each generation talked to a therapist about their suicidal thoughts.

Reasons why physicians kept suicidal thoughts secret

Quotes from real physicians:

“I’m afraid that if I spoke to a therapist, I’d have to report recieving psychiatric treatment to credentialling or licensing boards.”

“Physicians cannot seek help for these issues because if we do that, these temporary issues will follow us around for the rest of our careers.”

“Talking to someone makes you look like a failure, unable to cope with life’s problems”.

Resources for physicians having suicidal thoughts

Physician Support Line

888-409-0141 | www.physiciansupportline.com

Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:

800-273-TALK (8255) | Text: 741741 | www.988lifeline.org

PeerRX Med

(A free, peer-supported program that enables doctors to sign up for a physician buddy to provide mutual emotional support.)


International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP)



American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Offers resources for healthcare providers for suicide prevention, postvention, support after a suicide loss, and how to support colleagues.



In conclusion stress, burnout, traumatic experiences, and emergency life-or-death situations where doctors feel a heightened sense of responsibility may contribute to poor mental health in doctors and an increased risk of suicide.

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