‘I am an associate professor of surgery at Harvard. But I am also human.’
For years, no one in surgery talked publicly about mental distress in the profession; surgeons have long experienced a culture of silence when it comes to their personal pain. But this approach can have consequences for a surgeon’s own mental health.
After losing a friend and quietly grappling with illness, Carrie Cunningham is speaking up about her struggles and finding another way to save lives.
While Cunningham’s career as a surgeon soared, she struggled with challenges in her personal life. In 2012, a fellow surgeon and friend ended her life after being in and out of hospitals, oscillating between depression and mania, for a couple years. Cunningham had a terrible miscarriage, and also split from her husband after 25 years of marriage. Depression came and went, repeatedly, and she had frequent panic attacks.
It wasn’t until her own co-workers and boss reached out after that she took action. “It didn’t surprise me,” she says. “It was time.”
After flying to Orlando to take the helm as president of the Association of Academic Surgeons, she returned home to receive a five-day professional evaluation. The results stunned her: Cunningham, who’d never had a DUI or any problems at work, was deemed unfit to practice medicine.
She calls recovery the hardest thing she has ever done. “It felt like being forced through a wall of fire, terrified of walking through it and having no idea what was on the other side,” she says.
Follow the link in bio to read her full story.
Photography: Kayana Szymczak (@kayanaszymczak)