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The proportion of female doctors who kill themselves is twice that of other working women, finds a study of self inflicted deaths in 26 US states over nine years.
No overall difference was shown between male doctors and men in other jobs in the proportion who committed suicide—although among men over the age of 45 years the proportion was higher in doctors, the study found (Occupational Medicine doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqm117).
The researchers, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), used a national database of deaths to compare numbers of suicides among doctors, dentists, and all other occupations. A total of 203 doctors committed suicide in the study period (1984 to 1992).
The researchers looked at numbers of suicides separately for white male and white female doctors and dentists. There were too few non-white professionals for ethnicity to be included in the analysis, say the authors.
The results showed that the age standardised rate ratio for suicide among female doctors, in comparison with other working women, was 2.4 (95% confidence interval 1.5 to 3.8). The rate ratio also increased with age (P=0.02).
The authors wrote, “Although the suicide rate for white female physicians was only about half as large as that for their male counterparts, the rate was about twice as large as that in the standard working population.”
The age standardised rate ratio for suicide among male doctors, in comparison with other working men, was 0.8 (0.5 to 1.2). The authors also found a strong trend for an increasing rate of suicide among male doctors as they aged.
“White female physicians have a higher suicide rate than other working white females in the USA regardless of age,” concluded the authors. They say that the higher risk of suicide among older doctors may account for the varied conclusions in the literature about suicide among doctors.