Campus of Health Sciences Center
By Cindy Foster

Pause for Reflection

UNM Health Sciences Center to Hold Moment of Silence for Physicians and Students Lost to Suicide

Sometimes, the best and brightest get left behind.  

Suicide is the leading cause of death for male residents and is second among women residents in graduate medical education.

At 1 p.m. on Friday, as part of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, Michael E. Richards, MD, MPA, The University of New Mexico’s senior vice chancellor for clinical affairs, will preside over a moment of silence on the Health Sciences Center Plaza to honor the memory of physicians lost.

 “A physician’s suicide leaves a unique hole in the community,” Richards says. “We take it as our responsibility to provide a network of support for all our students, residents and faculty.”

Nationally, more than half of practicing physicians, medical residents and medical students are experiencing burnout,” says Elizabeth Lawrence, MD, Chief Wellness Officer in the UNM School of Medicine. “We now know burnout is associated with more expensive medical care, medical care of lower quality and poorer outcomes.”

Suicide prevention is part of the mission for the Office of Professional Well-Being (OPW), Lawrence says. Resources are offered throughout the year, including access to confidential counseling and group support for School of Medicine faculty, medical students, residents and fellows.  

“Clinician well-being has certainly received more attention since COVID, with the recognition that physicians, nurses and all clinicians are putting their lives on the line,” she says.

 “When we are burned out as clinicians it really impacts our patients,” she adds. “The vision of the office is to support changing the culture and systems in which we train and practice as physicians so that no one has to sacrifice their own well-being to care for others.”

The OPW webpage offers easily accessible resources, from self-study sessions for better time management to tips for better sleep.

The centerpiece of the site is a self-assessment developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that was first piloted at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine in response to a number of learner deaths. UNM was an early adapter and the tool has spread to other medical schools across the country, according to Lawrence.


Elizabeth Lawrence, MD
Because of the stigma associated with mental health and the idea that physicians are supposed to be superhuman and not ask for help, we are terrible at reaching out for psychological health.
Elizabeth Lawrence, MD, Chief Wellness Officer

“Because of the stigma associated with mental health and the idea that physicians are supposed to be superhuman and not ask for help, we are terrible at reaching out for psychological health,” she says. “There is a core group of 5 to 10 percent of the population who will never reach out, no matter how desperate they are.”

The program allows physicians and residents to access the program anonymously without supplying an email address or identifying themselves in any way, except by a code that they create, Lawrence says. “Then, they can communicate and dialogue online completely anonymously with one of our psychologists or counselors.”

For Friday’s ceremony on the HSC Plaza, please arrive by 12:50 p.m., as the moment of silence will occur at 1:00. People may participate in person on the field outside of the Health Sciences Library & Informatics Center.

A reception will be held after the remarks. Participants may also express their thoughts through a socially distanced art project.

Categories: Community Engagement, Education, Health, News You Can Use, School of Medicine, Top Stories