Episode 5 – Physician Suicide & Do No Harm | Robyn Symon


Robyn Symon Interview: Physician  Suicide & DO NO HARM

Robyn Symon, a two-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker, joined me for the Licensed to Lead podcast on April 30, 2020.

Robyn has written, directed, and produced films and television series—and she specializes in documentaries. We spoke about her acclaimed and riveting film that takes an unblinking look at the dark underbelly of medical training. Robyn is passionate about doing what she can to highlight and address the inhumanity of medical training—an inhumanity which unfortunately can also be found in healthcare organizations. She’s currently on an international film tour with her documentary about physicians and medical training—the film is:

DO NO HARM: Exposing the Hippocratic Hoax

DO NO HARM is about a sick culture in medical school and residency that drives depression and burnout and suicide among medical students and physicians. This is an issue that is important to physicians and so critical to the future of medicine.  It is phenomenal and hopeful that a filmmaker of Robyn Symon’s caliber chose to create a documentary to help stop the abuse of medical students and residents.

Robyn was particularly interested in joining me on the Licensed to Lead Podcast to highlight a series of screenings of the film in May—during Mental Health Awareness Month. When I asked Robyn what messages she wanted to communicate with the film she said she wants people to understand:

  • Why physician suicides are happening and what the impact is on patients
  • That physicians and patients must unite in their desire for an excellent healthcare system
  • That when physicians are burned out or suicidal “The problem is NOT YOU”—the problem is the system and the system must change
  • The importance of discussing suicide and reducing the stigma about mental illness 

One of the most urgent messages for medical students and physicians is the importance of understanding the threat posed to their mental health and the critical need to seek mental health assistance. Robyn Symon and Dr. Pamela Wible are on a mission to reduce barriers to mental health treatment including:

  • Affordability
  • Accessibility to high-quality support and treatment
  • Eliminating questions about prior mental health treatment on licensing and credentialing applications

In the interview, Robyn talks about resistance some medical schools have to host the film and audience discussions.  Robyn and other experts accompany the film to medical schools and healthcare organizations in order to lead the post-screening conversations. Considering the propensity for resistance she also marvels at the fact that over 180 organizations have hosted screenings with follow up audience discussions.  

We also talked about the science of sleep deprivation and the disingenuous arguments that are used to justify 28-hour shifts for trainees. There is a big question mark about the Congressional decision to leave regulation of work hours and work content to the ACGME.

Other topics included:

  • Physician disillusionment with the commoditization of medicine and the dysfunctional EHR
  • Revelations, particularly to the public, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
  • Physician leadership and a discussion about whether unionization of a profession like medicine is a good idea

During the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, Robyn is conducting on-line screenings of the film every Sunday night.  The screenings are available by going to the website DONOHARMFILM.COM and registering. Robyn introduces the film and after the film, she presides over a panel discussion by experts.  Each Sunday night a different topic is emphasized and the panelists are chosen based on that evening’s primary focus.  Dr. Pamela Wible, who is an instrumental part of the film, joins Robyn and the panelists for all of the screenings in May.