William Norcross, MD

San Diego, CA

My 42 years as a clinician at UCSD, 13 years as residency program director, 10 years as a member of the physician wellbeing committee, and 8 years as a founding member of our depression awareness and suicide prevention committee have all conspired to teach me that medicine is both the greatest calling and an ever-present danger to all physicians who devote themselves fully to professional excellence.

Burnout, depression, and even suicide are sadly commonplace among our colleagues. About 300 to 400 physicians and medical students take their lives each year in the United States, the equivalent of about two to three medical school classes. Tragically, the suicide risk of women physicians is the highest of any known subpopulation recorded in human history.

Over a century ago the great Sir William Osler told us: “Engrossed late and soon in professional cares…you may so lay waste that you may find, too late, with hearts given way, that there is no place in your habit-stricken souls for those gentler influences that make life worth living.” He further warns us: “In no relationship is the physician more often derelict than in his duty to himself.”

Fortunately, Osler, ever the consummate physician, teacher, and healer, has given us some solutions to these challenges. Osler presages mindfulness when he tells us “the overanxious student finds peace when he looks neither backward to the past nor forward to the future.” He also counsels us: “Amid the racket and hurly-burly of practice few of us have the chance to warm both hands at the fire of life.” I think Osler’s spirit is present in every Osler Symposia meeting, where in his honor and through his example we warm our hands at the fire of life.