They came with hopes and dreams. Dreams of helping the most vulnerable with the best training in the world. They left behind their families. From India, China, and Jordan, they arrived for the first time in the United States to start their lives in New York City, in search of the American dream.
Adhiraj Satija, MD, died in August 2020; Bo Yu, MD, died in February 2021; Waleed Saleh Abuhishmeh, MD, died in May 2021.
Most foreign medical graduates (FMGs) have never lived on their own, never shopped or paid bills. Thrust into a new culture and a new language, they must learn to practice medicine in a complex and disjointed system – alone with no social support, their loved ones now thousands of miles away.
Then came the pandemic. Thrown into the front lines, working 120-hour weeks for less than minimum wage, they ran ICUs and saved New Yorkers’ lives. Yet who helped them?
Struggling, their only way out was suicide and an “accidental” drowning.
Sent back home in coffins, they were never draped with American flags, never honored for their service.
When will Dr. Satija, Dr. Yu, and Dr. Abuhishmeh be honored as heroes? Two still have no online obituaries. None have been celebrated by the New York Times or The Today Show. They have no foundations in their names, no U.S. senators rallying around them in Washington.
Yet these beautiful souls – Dr. Satija, Dr. Yu, and Dr. Abuhishmeh – were sons, brothers, uncles, friends, and all are physician heroes.
Dr. Satija, from India, was “a true gem of a person, a brilliant doctor and a sincere friend. He was in his second year in an internal medicine residency at Lincoln Medical Center, in New York City, when he texted a coresident: “I’m sorry,” then killed himself.
“He worked hard for his goals and dreams and helped his friends achieve theirs,” according to a Facebook post. “He was always available to help any of us in need. He did his best and put his all in everything he did. He cared dearly for his friends and was always ready to celebrate all of their achievements. He believed in birthday cakes and made sure his closest friends always had one on their birthdays. He was one of the best among us and he will never be forgotten and will be forever missed.”
Dr. Yu, from China, graduated from Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine. He was also in his second year of internal medicine residency at Lincoln when he posted farewell photos on social media and then died by “accidental” drowning in a pool during a trip to Hawaii. He was still processing his grief from the suicide of his friend, Dr. Satija, at the time of his own death. He was down to earth with a quirky sense of humor, super intelligent, and extremely compassionate.
Dr. Abuhishmeh, from Jordan, was a first-year resident in internal medicine at Lincoln when he died by suicide just a few months after Dr. Bo Yu died. Reserved and soft-spoken, he was always respectful of his superiors (even when bullied). He had few friends and grew more withdrawn while in residency. Waleed told his family of his suicidal thoughts. They flew to New York. By the time they arrived, he was dead. “He was one of the kindest and nicest guys out there ever,” per his friends, all heartbroken by his suicide.
Although FMGs research residencies, they have no idea what their lives will really be like so far from home. With visas now sponsored by their employer, their lives and future are beholden to the leadership of their residency program.
These three deaths were shielded from the world until June 29, 2021, when I began getting anonymous emails from Lincoln residents: “Lincoln Medical Center has had three resident suicide deaths in the past 1 year ... please save us.”
More residents reached out on social media: “Saw the post on Facebook concerning Lincoln. As a resident there, I can say that this is 100% true. We work under horrible conditions with little support from administration. I’m glad somebody is speaking up. Several of my coresidents including myself have felt suicidal at some point working here.”
Since then, I’ve spoken with nearly 20 Lincoln doctors and their relatives. Like me, they want to prevent the next resident suicide. They want to create a culture of wellness at Lincoln. Fearing retaliation, they’ve requested anonymity in this article.