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We Asked Young Doctors Why Their Peers Are Killing Themselves

Young doctors often "spent all day ruminating" after a mistake was made.

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The 29-year-old was the fourth junior NSW physician to kill themselves in recent months.

The Australian Medical Association said Abbott was an "extremely talented" doctor who advocated for her "profession and her patients".

In a 2014 story for the Canberra Doctor magazine, Abbott wrote: “As a mentor once said to me, ‘No one is going to advocate for the rights of medical professionals, except for medical professionals,' a message I believe that every doctor should keep in mind in the unstable climate we face as a profession in years to come."

Teleconference w @chrisgambian, Dr Chloe Abbott + a local GPs in Banks, discussing Liberals attacks on Medicare

“The day before she passed away I begged her to leave medicine,” Abbott's younger sister Micaela told the Saturday Telegraph.

“From what I saw, the expectations were brutal. This exam that was meant to be next month… it became everything to her."

Doctor-in-training James Lawler said Abbott had been a "role model for younger doctors" and had advocated for "junior doctors and their mental health".

"I knew Chloe, not well, but I knew her and the shocking thing was that so many people knew her to be someone who would have talked to other people about how she was feeling," Lawler told BuzzFeed News.

Lawler said that while he has felt supported during his training and internship, "I know that many people end up in environments where they are not supported well by their supervisor, or their supervisor is a bully.

"Junior doctors often have to move away from their home and friends, so they lose that social support, and the work can be disenfranchising because you start out doing lots of secretarial-style paperwork.

"I think people talk too much about building up resilience training, as if that will solve rates of mental illness and suicide, but I think you actually have to look at the systematic pressures for an explanation, [such as] working night shifts in more stressful environments where you have deteriorating or dying patients."

When doctor-in-training Sophie Alpen was rural health officer at the Australian Medical Students' Association, she worked with Abbott.

"Of the people I've known who have taken their own life, some have done it in medical school, and some have done it when they were in training, so there are different pressures, and they are internal and external," Alpen, 25, told BuzzFeed News.

"The external pressures come from this expectation to fit a certain mould of a medical professional, and all the things you're expected to know when you can't possibly have that clinical experience yet."

Alpen said her experiences in Darwin, where she is currently working, and in country NSW, had been supportive and collaborative.

"But I have friends in Sydney and Melbourne who have become really passive and feel scared to ask questions, or be assertive, where they're not treated as an intellectual human," she said.

"I think empowering young doctors with brief flickers of autonomy could impact the survival of some people."

Young doctors often "spent all day ruminating" after a mistake was made.

"I think we have to counteract this culture of perfectionism for a greater acceptance of people who acknowledge their own mistakes," Alpen said.

"Bringing [other doctors' mistakes] to light would reduce the pressure on junior doctors, create an open learning environment and improve patient safety."

Hazzard told the Daily Telegraph he had consulted with the state's coroner Michael Barnes, whose records show 20 doctors in NSW killed themselves between 2007 and 2016.

If you need to talk to someone in Australia, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636.

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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