MM+M Editor-in-Chief Larry Dobrow talks with FCB Health New York VP, creative director Justin Kovarsy about “The Disposables.” It’s the next volley in an ongoing effort by industry coalition Disappearing Doctors to call attention to the mental health crisis raging among healthcare providers in COVID’s long wake.
Note: The MM+M Podcast uses speech-recognition software to generate transcripts, which may contain errors. Please use the transcript as a tool but check the corresponding audio before quoting the podcast.
400 doctors die every year by Suicide and that is likely a severe undercount.
It’s not something we hear or think about anywhere near as much as we should.
My name is Larry Joe Brown on the Editor in Chief of mmm, and I’d like to welcome you to a special edition of the M&M podcast.
This one’s a little personal for us and really it should be for almost everybody. We’re going to talk with Justin. Kovarzi who’s the vice president creative director at FCB Health New York about the disposables. That’s a just launched campaign to call attention to the Mental Health crisis among Healthcare Providers and support the many doctors under considerable mental strain do in large parts of the fact that well. They are a doctors.
The part about it being personal I was in the same College graduating class as Dr. Lorna Breen. I didn’t know her well, but we had some friends in common and pretty much everybody thought the exact same thing that Lorna was a superstar in the making this was born out over the course of her medical career right up until she ended her own life on April 26th 2020.
She’d been working 14-hour shifts in Manhattan emergency rooms during the brutal first wave of covid in New York City. It was for obvious reasons and Incredibly stressful time for every health care professional and more. So for those that covid ground zero like Lorna, Lorna had no previous mental health issues or history of depression. She had only one significant risk factor that she was a doctor specializing in emergency medicine.
That’s where disappearing doctors comes in. It’s a coalition of organizations that are working together to help hcps find the mental health support that they need and to remove this stigma associated with it.
What prevented Lorna from getting help was that she worried that by doing so she compromised a career that meant everything to her?
Here’s our conversation with Justin.
It’s worth noting that after we stop recording the two of us talked a little bit about our children and our goals for them their lives and their careers. Both of us agreed. We’re not really sure we want our kids to be doctors that used to be every parent’s dream, right? There’s no more noble profession than helping and curing and healing others.
Right now being a doctor is a dangerous profession right up there with any of the other professions traditionally thought to be dangerous whether it’s a police officer or a firefighter.
We urge you to check out disappearing doctors and support their incredibly worthy and needed work any way you can.
Justin welcome and thanks so much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me. And thanks for your partnership on this. It’s a really important topic. So I’m glad to be here.
Absolutely. Let’s start at the very beginning this obviously was born a couple years ago, you know, where in a pretty I wouldn’t say, we’re in advanced stage of the campaign but where you know, it’s been around for a little bit. Tell me about disappearing doctors. Tell me a little bit about how FCB Health New York got this thing movement. Well disappearing doctors is
a movement and an initiative that we started at FCB Health almost by accident. You know, we were
Going through statistics looking for some research about doctors and We Came Upon This statistic that really kind of stopped us in our tracks. It wasn’t really specifically relevant for what we were working on but we thought hey we need to do something about that. And so we chased it down. And so that that’s statistic is that 400 doctors die by suicide every year
and that’s a statistic. We found years ago pre-covid and it seems that those numbers are only getting worse.
Um, we wanted to create an awareness campaign that got the word out because before covid there really wasn’t an awareness around this people really weren’t even aware that doctors were struggling in this way post covid. I think there’s a better understanding of hey doctors have enormous pressure. They’re dealing with kind of a broken system and they don’t necessarily have the access to care that they need. And so what we’ve done is build a coalition of doctors of Advocates of Technology groups that could hopefully start changing some of that tell me a little bit about how it came together. I mean certainly, you know, you hear that number
and it’s staggering and again like you just said that number might not be up to date. It’s probably an all likelihood, you know, considerably worse now assembling this group. What were the pivotal steps? What was the moment when you said like, all right. We’re on our way. We have this thing geared up and ready to go.
Well, do you want to address that bit about that number likely being higher? I mean
Just given this shape of the problem.
A lot of doctors end up covering for one another because suicide is such a fraud issue legally. Not every doctor who dies by Suicide is even recorded as a suicide. So the number really truly might be much higher and how did the team come together? It came together at least internally by just having conversations and saying well we’re mad agency. You know what change can we really make and what how can we Flex what we’re good at in order to actually create some change out there and get some get some of this together. And so we started doing our research. We started taking a couple of different creative approaches at first, you know, we dramatize
The idea of suicide itself and we brought that to some suicide hotlines and suicide organizations. And you know, what they the guidance they gave us was the more you talk and show suicide that actually can lead to more suicide. So we went back to the table and we reached out to other doctors. We reached out to Medical boards who we thought might be, you know the right place to start. But ultimately, I think there’s conflict there between the doctors and the boards and we want it to be more on the side of the doctors and so slowly but surely we we started navigating this system and learning more and more about what some of these root causes were and you know, we we identified some hand raisers within the agency and then we started just spreading out trying to find the right Partners, you know, one of our first pivotal Partners was sermo who’s been an amazing partner. That’s really how we launched some of the disappearing doctors work. It’s a platform where doctors can be anonymous they can talk about, you know their patient cases. Hey, I’m a doctor from Tennessee.
Retina and I am having this issue doctor group. Can you help me get to that solution? And so the Insight that we found was
When doctors were talking about their husbands or their kids there was a huge upswell of support. And so we thought how much more so could we tap into that if we were dealing with the doctors themselves and so we created this Anonymous platform for doctors to come and have these conversations in ways that were really stigmatized in the real world. And so that was really our first launch of the disappearing doctors campaign
back in 2020.
I’ve been doing this obviously for three years. Now, what are some of the surprising things that you learned along the way where we’re maybe pockets of support or alternately lack of support that you didn’t anticipate when this effort was first envisioned.
Well, I do want to start with let’s say let’s look at what this problem really is because it’s surprising to so many people in the shape of it is just kind of mind-blowing here. So doctors who we value so much are expected to do things that violate labor laws in almost every other field. They work over 80 hours a week many of them work shifts that are 30 hours more in a row. And so that’s on the institutional side on the other side.
One of the more surprising stats that that we found was that 75% of all workplace assaults occur in the healthcare sector. So not only is the system stigmatizing them and stopping them from getting the help. They need working them harder than ever before because of some of the consolidation that’s happening. But at the same time
patience are either assaulting them in the extreme case or undermining them because of being able to do their own research on Google and thinking they know better. So the place of the doctor has really kind of shifted and
It’s it’s been really surprising.
the problem really is so
deeply rooted when you had conversations with doctors in advance of you know, rolling this out.
You know, certainly some of the things you just mentioned. I’m sure came up. Was there any skepticism was there any almost worry that like, all right. Well, you know, this is what the system is and how much are we gonna be able to do to push back against it? Did you encounter any obstacles in that form?
What we encountered Was Fear? Honestly what people were saying, please don’t use my name, please. Let’s keep this Anonymous and that’s really where stuff started I think now there’s a little bit more openness about the problem but there’s still a lot of stigma and doctors really didn’t want to talk about it, which is you know, alarming. This is something that you know,
We all work really hard. I’ve worked in 80 hour week many of us have dealt with depression or other mental health issues, but the difference is when we have a mental health issue. We can go out there and address it we can go.
Get the help we need whereas where doctors do it. They really putting their livelihoods at state. So even joining publicly.
A movement like what we’re trying to to get going here leads to a lot of anxiety among
doctors when did you know on whether it was early or I’m a little bit into the campaign. When did you know that this was for lack of a more elegant way to put it working? What were some of the signs that you know, you and your team and some of the Affiliated organizations you were working with picked up on and said like this is it this is what we’re trying to do and this is the way we want it to be received. I think one of the strong suits of what we’re doing
at FCB health is there’s so many silos out there and we’re really trying to connect people and so there’s a huge amount of pockets of support for this but what we’re seeing as many of them coming together in in the form of a coalition that’s really allowing some of these cross-functional teams to help one another and collaborate in ways that haven’t what kind of existed before that’s been huge. And then just the engagement that we’ve seen on some of these platforms the attendance that we’ve seen on some of the events we’ve put on the types of big names that we’ve
And to come to some of our events that we’ve helped co-host and just the emotional outpouring of support that we’ve had on some of these panels people truly breaking down telling their stories, but then people really being receptive to hearing that story. That’s how we knew we were on to something and you know, one of the things that really made us know that this was something we had to chase down was the secrecy that this was all shrouded in and kind of the the ignorance that people had to this I mean, you know, we would talk to doctors the very beginning in early days and say hey did you know that a million Americans are gonna lose access to their doctor this year not because of you know, the Affordable Care Act or any kind of change to the system but really because
400 doctors are dying by Suicide and you would see a light bulb go off in these doctors Minds who had never really fully thought about this directly. They would say, oh, I know somebody who’s died by Suicide. I knew that guy. I knew that guy but I thought that was a one-off but then there was that other guy and then there was that woman and suddenly
The rain cloud is just above them right it’s not.
It’s not something that was happenstance. It’s something that’s systemic and it’s something that although there’s a National Suicide crisis. There’s an acute problem among Physicians and you know the healthcare sector more broadly.
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We’re recording this on a Friday on Sunday. It’s National Physicians suicide awareness day. Tell us a little bit about the event tell us a little bit about how by visualizing this in the disposables which is a new component of the campaign. We’re going to push this thing into a different
So the disposables campaign is the latest iteration of what we were doing and I think what we wanted to do here was you know, we have shifted the conversation a bit out there right now people many people are aware.
But we wanted to make sure that we weren’t losing the humanity of these certain people.
Who were actually going through this who are actually Dying by Suicide and we also wanted to just really be pretty pointed to say. Hey, these are some of our most valuable people and yet so much in the medical community.
Is built to be disposable our doctors cannot be one of them and really kind of dramatizing that aspect of it. And so Jeremy and I Jeremy Rosario who’s a really thoughtful art director an artist.
Came up with this concept and we decided hey, how can we bring this into the real world? And he took the initiative to actually build portraits based on this idea. And so what we did was we used.
Disposable items from the workplaces of where these doctors worked every day and died by Suicide and build portraits of them as a memorial and as kind of a rallying cry both for those who have died and for those who are still going through this and so this Sunday we’re doing an event in Ohio on the ground with the Ohio State Medical Association and honor of national physician suicide awareness month day, which is September 17th. We wanted to start local
And partner with somebody who we knew was making real change on the ground and that’s what the osma has been doing. And so what we’re doing is
we’re going to be displaying an unveiling these portraits of the first time.
And it’s meant to be really a pretty emotional day. We’re gonna have
families of these people see these portraits the first time speak about what their Partners have gone through and what they’ve gone through personally what they’re experience has been with the system.
we’re going to have health leaders from across Ohio who all have pockets of innovation and programs and things that they’ve been doing and we’re trying to find ways to connect the dots and then we’re gonna have the local press there to let the
local Alliance know what they can do and how they can get involved and really just try to bring this to that higher level of awareness, but also action
The artwork from the disposables by the way
is a beautiful will be featuring some of it alongside this podcast presentation. So be sure to check it out anyone who’s listening.
I know you said that you know, the the idea with this event is to start local moving forward is is that the way we’re gonna get this out. Is it going to be kind of local and kind of fan out from there? Are there gonna be joint local and National pushes. How do we make sure that you know, this isn’t something which means so many campaigns, you know, you get that big burst of energy and then kind of Fizzles a little bit. This has been going on for you know, what three full years at this point and there’s still a lot of momentum. How do you make sure you sustain that?
I think it’s just about chasing down every lead because you know time and time again doors have been closed when it comes to this, you know, before we got involved as soon as we got involved. We said, hey, we’ve got a great idea. Let’s go do it and then those doors end up closing there’s regulatory issues. There’s budget issues. They’re sensitivities and political implications. So I think what we’ve tried to do is Chase down every lead and be creative.
Both in the work but in our approach to the work, so that’s one thing and to answer the question about how do we make sure this isn’t a one-off we’ve been committed to this since we’ve gone live for the past three years, but there was three years before that when we were thinking about this and trying to get this right because this is something that is incumbent on all of us to I think be involved in especially all of us in the Healthcare Community and it’s certainly anyone in doing advertising in Healthcare Community because we tell doctors every day about new things. We we lean on them to help us.
And at the same time we’re always asking them and telling them what what’s going on, but we never ask how they’re doing. And so what’s coming next we’re looking at how can we partner with some of these more National groups like the all-in foundation who’s really looking at federal laws to change and have already had some success there. We’re looking at on a Global Perspective with Servo. How can we create places and spaces for people to have those conversations and then on a local level really finding ways to bring this artwork either around the country or to specific events so that we can have this conversation and create kind of this rolling Memorial because unfortunately this problem isn’t going away. And in fact, it seems to be getting worse. There’s all these people out there of Good Will who are trying to do good and you know when you meet with them, you know, some organizations will say hey, we have a program in place. And so the question we always ask is
Why are the numbers getting worse if everyone’s doing something what how come the results aren’t there? And exactly we’re very results driven at FCB Health New York in general. And so we’re trying to take that mindset
to this problem Justin just one last question for you. Mmm very much views itself as a partner in this effort. So you’re gonna be hearing an awful lot more about it across our channels and you know events everything else but um a year from now here, let’s say we’re having this conversation again, I think the ultimate goal is to have see the numbers come down and come down substantially but a year from now if we’re you know measuring the campaigns Effectiveness, what are some of the things that you’re gonna be looking out for what are some of the things you’d like to see who are some of the partners you might want to add?
So for a broad perspective, we want to fix broken systems. We want to Center physician voices as we’re doing that and we want to prioritize their well-being. I think those are our kind of guiding principles on a very specific tangible level. One of the things we’re working on with the osma is to change some of the credentialing questions that go into becoming a licensed physician and getting a new job. So unlike most other jobs.
There’s some really invasive mental health questions that are asked for Physicians, you know, when they’re trying to become a physician and when they’re trying to get a new job. And so what we’re trying to do is remove some of those questions so that you know, one of the net effects here is that perspective doctors who are in medical school or doctors who are just practicing are always conscious of not trying to go out and get mental health care because if they do they have to legally report that so yeah, that’s a huge barrier that leads to a lot of issues. So that’s one real tangible issue where we’re working towards the change and hopefully we’ll have some good news there. There’s tons of momentum behind that and then on a broader level I think creating the awareness among first of all every single physician. I think we’ve made a lot of progress there but among the general public to because you know,
A society can measure itself on what we prioritize and if we’re not prioritizing doctors. I don’t know how we’re ever going to get healthy.
Justin thank you so much for your time here today and thank you and everybody at FCB Health New York for the work that you’re doing. This is valuable valuable work and you know, obviously you guys have one or two other things going on at the same time. You’re doing the best stuff here many. Thanks.
Thanks so much for your partnership. It’s been amazing on this mission to get the word out and to really create some change. So thanks again and it’s been great talking to you today.
We will have another conversation soon. I am sure for the mmm podcast. This is Larry Joe many. Thanks for listening be well.
For more information on the disposables, please visit disappearingdoctors.com
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Visit 988lifeline.org for crisis chat services or for more information.