Medical Professional
Suicide: Myth and Reality

For years, there's been a widespread belief that dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Actually, that's something of an urban legend: It gained traction after Jerry's dentist made the claim in a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld." The rumor has prompted scholarly research and reports by dental associations, most of which prove Jerry's dentist wrong.

Interestingly, evidence shows that physicians actually have the highest suicide rates. Researchers speculate that's because physicians have ready access to powerful drugs and know how to use them. The means of suicide are available to them, and they're more likely to succeed if they try.

Using suicide rate comparisons to determine the most stressful professions can be misleading, however. Many jurisdictions don't record the profession of suicide victims, and sometimes self-inflicted deaths aren't recorded as suicides [source: Shrira].

Medical professionals often show up on lists of stressful jobs. Consider the vital importance of their work, the long hours and the knowledge that they can't always fix things, and the stress is understandable.

Surgeons must be incredibly precise -- often for hours at a time. Psychiatrists listen to other people's problems, knowing that they can't always help. Medical interns work hard, often without adequate sleep. Dentists do much of their work standing up, developing foot and back problems, in addition to worrying about people's teeth and gums. Nurses and others who work with terminally ill patients face great emotional stress.

Dentists, physicians and others with their own practices feel the pressure of running a business as well as attending to their painstaking work. Those who work for larger practices feel pressured to see more patients, and sometimes feel they don't have enough time to do their job right.

Feeling stressed yet? Keep reading.