BACKGROUND. The obituary section of most issues of JAMA announces the death of at least one physician under the age of 40 years. The premature death of a physician is a significant loss to society. METHOD. The authors ascertained the mortality of physicians ages 25 to 39 years occurring from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1988, from obituary listings in JAMA, and calculated mortality rates by gender and age. Death certificates were sought for all decedents listed as residing in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Cause of death was investigated for this subset. RESULTS. There were 835 young-physician fatalities reported in JAMA during the study period, (an average of 93 deaths per year). The mortality rate among female doctors was 26/100,000; among male doctors it was 40/100,000. The mortality rate of young doctors was less than half that of the general population of white persons of the same age. Of the 122 deaths for which a death certificate was located, 45 (37%) were due to disease, 32 were suicides (26%), 31 were unintentional injuries (25%), and five (4%) were homicides. CONCLUSION. Young physicians enjoy a considerable mortality advantage over non-physicians of similar age. If the study findings in the death certificate sample are generalizable, at least half of the deaths of young physicians are theoretically preventable (suicides, homicides, and unintentional injuries). Residency program directors should consider how their training programs may affect the likelihood of a young physician's dying from a preventable cause.
(C) 1995 Association of American Medical Colleges