When I received an email from her in March, it was exceptionally helpful and genuine. You could tell she exuded that class president energy and was a true leader. Dr. Mortimer sounded excited for residency to begin.
We met each other across the green at the mandatory, unpaid 4-day orientation. She seemed laid-back and content. I remember the one week of electives we were granted was scheduled early for her. By August, Dr. Mortimer was requesting a shift swap in the emergency department. No one volunteered. Slowly, those ordinary activities and life events fell by the wayside. I heard from her most when the rotation was less than pleasant. She thrived during the one elective rotation we had that allowed one to breathe. Such rotations were few and far between.
There was a COVID scare mid-year. The organization failed to support residents dealing with COVID. All the while, residents juggled responsibilities like Step 3 and patient care. One particular rotation was particularly problematic. This occurred at the third hospital we had to report to, and Dr. Mortimer did not have a car. Every day, I heard from Dr. Mortimer about the heavy workload, disorganization, and lack of support during the rotation.
I recall the last time I ever saw her. She had a string of floor rotations in a row and appeared dejected. I recognized her by her GW sweatshirt. Unmasked, I was surprised by how quiet she was. Yet, she clearly immersed herself in her work and demonstrated proficiency in patient care. As I left bleary-eyed after a 16-hour night shift, I never realized that this would be the final time I ever saw her. What happened wasn’t a coincidence.
I cringe at the staged pictures and public relations maneuvers the residency program promotes on its social media. This is because I know the truth. Dr. Nakita Mortimer’s death was not an accident; it was a result of a toxic environment and deeper-seated issues in a residency system resembling indentured servitude. Please don’t forget Dr. Mortimer. Please don’t overlook the problems that caused this situation in the first place.
Adding more mandatory wellness events and a thinly veiled mentor program that merely serves to pad one’s file won’t solve this problem. Having the hospital psychiatrist interrogate all residents won’t solve this problem. The first step is caring, which was sorely absent here. The second step is taking accountability for the problem instead of shifting blame or silencing those who speak up. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You may end up paying for it with something far more valuable.
The author is an anonymous physician.