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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK
Women medics face 'higher suicide risk'
Female doctors
Female doctors are more vulnerable to suicide
Women who chose a career in medicine are much more likely to commit suicide than other females, research shows.

Work by the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University found women doctors were twice as likely to take their own lives than women in the general population.

However, male doctors were less likely to kill themselves than other men.

It may be that the sort of women who go into medicine are high performing, very bright perfectionists who tend to become frustrated

Professor John Ashton, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
General population statistics show that suicide rates among men are significantly higher than among women.

The study also found that those doctors most at risk were community health doctors, anaesthetists, psychiatrists, and GPs.

The researchers calculated that the suicide rate among women doctors was 12.6 per 100,000 for the years 1991 to 1995.

Over the same period, the rate for female suicides in the general population was just 6.3 per 100,000.

Among male doctors, the rate was 14.28 per 100,000 - a third less than the 21 per 100,000 rate among the male population.

The research team found that anaesthetists were almost seven times, psychiatrists five, and GPs over 3.5 times as likely to commit suicide than other doctors.

Community health doctors

Community health doctors were especially vulnerable, being eight times more likely to commit suicide than other doctors, while men in this specialty were 12 times as likely as their female colleagues to do so.

The researchers said: "The increased risk in female doctors is of particular concern in the light of the steadily increasing number and proportion of women in the medical workforce."

They are calling for more effective ways of tackling stress and mental health problems among doctors.

Professor John Ashton, co-editor, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health which published the research, told BBC News Online that nobody knew why female doctors were so apparently vulnerable.

But he said: "The nature of the work of a doctor can be stressful. It can be very busy and hectic, and it is difficult to reconcile conflicting demands.

"It may be that the sort of women who go into medicine are high performing, very bright perfectionists who tend to become frustrated.

"It is known that people who are conscientious to a fault may have a tendency towards depression."

Professor Ashton said it was important that efforts were made to reduce stress for doctors.

He called for effective occupational health schemes and family friendly employment policies.

BMA response

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "The BMA is saddened that women doctors would feel under such pressure that they take the drastic action of suicide for whatever reason.

"Huge pressures are facing all doctors in an under-resourced NHS and more research is needed to find out what causes the higher rate of suicide among these women doctors.

"There is an urgent need for more family-friendly policies in every speciality.

"It is particularly important to discover what drives these women doctors to suicide since more than half of the current medical graduates are women."

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