E for Exhausted Doctors


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One of the most important components of a medical training is the Residency (On Job training ) Program. Not only is the path to becoming a doctor long and arduous, but also involves inhumane duty hours. Right from Day 1 of the MD program, you are put on emergency rotations which the duty hours extend up to 18-22 hrs. a day or more than 60 hrs. a week. Even without emergency duty, the average work of a resident starts early in the morning and extends into wee hours of night. I remember joking with our contemporary orthopedic residents that they rarely saw the light of the day. The cases would go till late at night and st times exhausted they would sleep within OT Itself. The burnout rate among doctors is high, yet in todays world the doctors are the most blamed species. The ongoing Covid pandemic has not only highlighted this plight, but also brought forth another ignored aspect – the plight of doctors families, who suffer mental agony alongside.

Very few people know, that i had worked in Anesthesia for a short period of around 3 months. The very 1st day I had reported, I was assigned to an OT for routine posting and also assigned to an On call / Emergency Rota. So, in addition to the routine OT, 2/3 days in a week the team to which i was assigned would be on call meaning we would be on duty for 24 hours and would be the team to provide anesthesia to all the emergency surgeries such as an emergency LSCS, trauma, surgical emergencies etc. and would also be posted in the postoperative recovery room. Irrespective of how many calls were received at night, the next morning you had to report to your routine OT at 7 am in the morning. So most of the times, I would be awake for 36 hrs. or more at stretch.

My Husband ( fiancé at that time ) had taken up MD pathology in another college within Mumbai. One such evening, i went to meet him post call. I was so sleepy that i almost missed the stop where I had to get down. After unsuccessful attempt to be awake, he suggested that i should go back and sleep. He was sure I would sleep in the bus and miss the stop again. He accompanied to drop me back and as was suspected I slept on the way back and collapsed on my bed the moment I reached my room.

Residents often work long hours, also balancing study and exams with the continued demand of learning on the job in high pressure circumstances. All this place them at high risk of mental and physical exhaustion.  They do all the ground work, including clerical work. They are like the donkeys doing the mundane work of completing notes, gathering data, filling in shoes for seniors, all the while trying to learn new skills and studying as well. Some branches are more grueling like Obstetrics, Surgery, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. I know many of my friends who took obstetrics as first choice and then left it due to not being able to cope up with the demands of the profession.

I ended up doing MD in pathology where the emergency requirement is much less and you can still say sane, but having married an intensivist, I have seen closely the demands of trade. During the ongoing pandemic, I have seen him sleepless, exhausted and at times managing with just a 4-5 hour of disturbed sleep answering calls from hospital every hour or so. I know friends who left their children with caretakers for days at stretch just to fulfill the Hippocrates’ oath.

Yet, medicine as a career has lost its sheen. It is no longer even a respected branch. Advent of corporates has made it more of business. And the rising share of those corporates has made it more costly. Doctors being the face of any hospital have become the public’s punchbag. Would all this change in any near future? I doubt. My son seeing our busy schedules has already declared that he will never walk this path.

Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy on Pexels.com

I am participating in #A2Z2021 hosted by Blogchatter. Blogchatter community binds all the Indian bloggers and has put blogging at a forefront. You can visit them at https://theblogchatter.com

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