Reflections: Dr. Pamela Wible, Physicians’ Guardian Angel Describes “Ideal Health Care”

Pamela Wible
Pamela Wible, a speaker in our Human Explorations session.

An estimated 400 physicians commit suicide each year and many more suffer from emotional illnesses and addiction. Estimating that each doctor cares for 2,300 patients, this means that every year close to one million people lose their doctor to suicide. Their loss is tragic, painful and frightening – and, for the families, friends and colleagues of the victim, the repercussions of the suicide are lifelong.

In a presentation that managed to be both fierce and deeply vulnerable, angry and loving, Dr. Pamela Wible shared with the TEDMED community her insights and possible remedies for the physician plights. She described, in detail, what it would look like to care for the people who care for us. She makes a strong case that a major contributor to the problem is our system for medical training: Broken people are perpetuating a broken system.

Pamela exhorts the TEDMED community to commit to changing the plight of the people who give care. Her words were meant to inspire not only those who train doctors but also those of us who are patients. Like all positive care experiences, trusting relationships are at the core of optimizing outcomes.

Pamela challenged listeners to type the words “Doctors Are” into the Google search bar, and see how it auto-populates with the most common search queries. So we did.

Google reveals which adjectives people most often type into the search bar after “doctors are …”. Pamela believes medical training creates this situation.

This represents a public mindset. It is not “wrong” in the sense of being inaccurate, since it is how people are feeling as a result of their engagements with doctors and the outcomes. But it is wrong in the sense of reality. The people who care for us are our best and brightest, they work unreasonable hours, face untenable pressures and struggle to stay viable in an ever-changing system that fights against what, for many doctors, is the soul of their work: relationships with their patients. The 2014 Physician Foundation Study revealed that approximately 80% of physicians rated patient relationships well above prestige and pay … yet, says Pamela, this is what gets lost in the real life of doctors.

We, doctors and patients, are in this together. It takes two to start and build a relationship. Shifting our goal to creating a “culture of health” demands that we find ways to celebrate and enhance the doctor patient relationship.