Malaysiakini Letter

Overworked medics in no one's interest

Thiru KCS.  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on the plight of medical house officers in our country who are compelled to work long hours uninterruptedly. The most important asset of a country is not its natural resources, but rather its human resources.

This is especially true in a knowledge-based economy, which, of course, will be the trend in the future if not already the trend in most of the Western countries.

When noble professions are ever discussed, the first that comes to mind is none other than medical doctors. The big unsolved question is that are we giving enough importance to this profession?

Stress and burnout are concepts that have sustained the interest of house officers and researchers for several decades.

These concepts are highly relevant to the workforce in general and house officers in particular.

Despite this interest and relevance, the effect of stress and burnout on patient outcomes, patient safety, and quality care is still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solutions and action plans.

The Employment Act 1955 (EA) mandates that overtime pay at double the normal wage-rate and triple the normal wage-rate must be paid when employees work on rest days and public holidays, respectively.

I am aware that civil servants do not come under the purview of the EA; and doctors, housemen and the medical fraternity in government service are specifically excluded due to "work, the performance of which is essential to the life of the community" [EA Section 60A (2)(b)].

It's almost absurd when authorities are convinced that they have looked into the matter by comparing to the improvements introduced from a decade back.

The issue that crucially awaits justice is what could be done to further improve the lifestyles of these house officers.

The utmost important issue to be addressed over here, apart from the payments and incentives which has always been debated despite the rise in the cost of living is the quality of life that these house officers lead in their daily lives.

As the flow of life force energy moves through the physical and emotional bodies, it can become imbalanced or blocked.

Although the hazards associated with the prolonged hours worked by resident physicians and house officers have been documented in numerous studies, limited attention has been paid from the administrative point of view on how to curb this issue.

It's distressing looking at the rates of house officers that seeks for psychiatry consultation at an alarming 60 percent in total at year 2008.

Is this the kind of situation that we anticipate being healthy for these group of professionals? I can safely call this a crisis that screams for immediate remedy!

The development of trust in the physician leads to a proper patient-doctor relationship and is part of the healing process.

A major element necessary for patient trust is with an individual whom is able to respond to the patient with focus and diligently gather information from the slightest reactions exhibited by the patients; and this in no doubt is only possible when your mind and body synchs in together.

How would you even try to develop this professional relationship with your patients with these factors; red, puffy eyes and a haggard appearance, lack of mental clarity not mentioning your aching physical body.

Medical studies have determined that stress causes our bodies to produce more Cortisol. This "stress hormone" is normally only released into our bloodstreams in emergency situations.

When we become scared or excited, Cortisol is flooded into our bodies to help us deal efficiently with the situation. Too much of this hormone in our bloodstreams can and does cause adverse health conditions.

These conditions can include, but are not limited to, cardiac problems, strokes, obesity, a lower immunity system, and insomnia.

An overworked house officer is prone to make unavoidable mistakes that would simply cause the lives of their patient not forgetting a huge blow to their career.

Based on current empirical evidence on stress and burnout in house officers, it is highly recommended that these issues are looked into precisely to enhance patient safety.

May the relevant authority ensure that these public service doctors are happy and capable of providing the best service to the nation. So to the powers that be, wake up and smell the coffee.

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