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The Devil We Know

By Daniel Foster11 Oct 2023

The American Medical Association recently released an article to which we lend our voice, speaking on behalf of some incredible—sometimes seemingly superhuman—people.

Depression and suicide are higher among doctors than the general populace, with surgeons in particular faring worse. According to the AMA article, 1/3 of entering residents develop depression within 12 months, and that depression holds on long after residency.1 The COVID pandemic did nothing to improve the situation. While it did improve all of our appreciation for the dedication of our clinicians, it exacted a terrible tax on their mental and physical health. Pulling from Tan, et al2, the article went on to say “At the peak of the pandemic, 33% of surgeons screened positive for depression, 31% for anxiety, and 24% for posttraumatic stress disorder.” No amount of talent and dedication makes a human invincible.

To say a surgeon’s life is stressful is an understatement worthy of a prize. Everyone knows this, and everyone knows the inestimable value that surgeons bring to our society.

But we echo the AMA on this topic because surgeons should not be valued by what they can do for us, but because of their worth as human beings, whose pressures and stresses and overloads deserve acknowledgement, attention, and correction-efforts.

Someone once said “Better the Devil we know than the Devil we don’t.”

This issue is certainly the Devil we know… or is it? Concerning as these statistics are, they are almost certainly underreporting. Fear of recrimination can be powerful in a profession that demands absolute professionalism, while also often demanding that its practitioners deprioritize their own mental and physical wellbeing in favor of their patients’.

Simply put, surgeons deserve the same level of impeccable care and respect that they show to us each day. Mental, emotional, and physical consideration are rights.

Not medical rights.

Human rights.


Please read the original, expanded article as published by the AMA in Reference 1.


  1. Hughes Tasha M, et al; JAMA Surg, Oct 4, 2023. “Depression and Suicide Among American Surgeons – A Grave Threat to the Surgeon Workforce.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37792380/

  2. Tan YQ,Wang Z, Yap QV, et al; SoMe4Surgery working group Collaborators. Psychological health of surgeons in a time of COVID-19: a global survey.