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Doctor’s suicide at Beersheba hospital is fourth since 2018

Physicians at Soroka Medical Center complain of overwork and intense stress, with one official saying many have to work 430 hours a month

Illustrative: An ambulance outside the Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, December 23, 2013. (FLASH90)
Illustrative: An ambulance outside the Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, December 23, 2013. (FLASH90)

A medical resident at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center committed suicide this weekend, making him the fourth doctor there to take his own life in the past year and a half.

According to local media, the unnamed resident’s death prompted the hospital’s administration to call for an emergency meeting to deal with the issue, which comes as medical staff complain of long hours and unacceptable working conditions.

“We are extremely saddened to announce the death of a medical staff member in the hospital. The hospital management is holding an urgent hearing following the tragic cases and announcing its steps. We share in the family’s heavy grief,” the hospital said in a statement.

In July 2018, Dr. Alex Berezovsky, head of the Soroka Medical Center’s plastic surgery department, hanged himself inside an operating room. He left behind a detailed note that blamed the Israel Medical Association for his decision to end his life, writing that he found it difficult to handle the pressures of his surgery schedule alongside the requirement to train interns.

Dr. Alex Berezovsky. (dr-berezovsky.co.il)

He was followed in September by Dr. Avi Shimoni, who headed the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, and an unnamed 57-year-old physician in December 2019.

During that same period, two psychiatric professionals at the hospital were themselves admitted to a psychiatric ward, Ynet reported.

According to Ynet, after Berezovsky took his own life, the hospital set up a program to help prevent further suicides, but its efforts have failed to stem the tide. In July 2018, the same month Berezovsky died, a new study showed that, at least in the US, the suicide rate among doctors was higher than among members of any other profession and double that of the US population overall.

Speaking to Channel 12, one hospital official accused management of being unresponsive to the problem and stated that he expected there to be more suicides going forward.

He said that while management had told the doctors that they were the “top priority,” Soroka was still “the worst in the country in terms of workloads.”

Doctors, he continued, have to work 430 hours a month with very little time to see their families.

“These are not conditions that are suitable for patients or employees. There is an unreasonable burden here.”

In a letter to the Health Ministry in response to this weekend’s suicide, Dr. Rey Biton of the Medical Residents Organization of Israel called for the immediate establishment of “an immediate investigative committee to shed light on the circumstances that led to these tragic events, and on the doctors’ work environment in Soroka.”

After this weekend’s suicide, Israel Medical Association chair Prof. Zion Hagai sent a letter to doctors at Soroka, offering them encouragement and acknowledging that despite moves to solve “physician shortages,” the efforts were “not enough.”

“I want to assure you that we will do everything to support and improve your distress, and we will work to increase standards and add doctors to the busiest medical center in the country,” he wrote.

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