THE plight of houseman has been aired in several letters but it looks like the Health Ministry is not listening.
My sibling is a trainee houseman in a general hospital who sometimes has to work 21 hours straight, especially if it is a weekday. She is lucky if she comes back after 16 hours on a weekend call.
Even if she is on leave or post-call, she is expected to return for the weekly one hour teaching session, usually at 3pm in the afternoon.
Sometimes, she has to go back to help out another colleague or to complete some unfinished tasks. There is no proper call room unlike in some of the newer hospitals.
A houseman is lucky if he can grab some sleep or have a quick shower and change in an empty first class ward. Some kind nurses will also share their food.
My sibling was traumatised early this year.
Two of her colleagues died in a car crash on the way to work and another sustained injuries in a car accident due to extreme fatigue.
One colleague was asked to identify the deceased houseman at the mortuary in another hospital. They were from out-of-town and living on their own.
Another friend quit her housemanship within two months of work, heeding her father’s advice.
Another houseman was lucky to have a well-connected father who was a doctor and got him transferred to a hospital closer to home after he fell asleep at the wheel.
Most of the housemen work very hard, yet they get yelled at, postings get extended needlessly or they are asked to write explanation letters at the slightest mistake.
Verbal abuse is a norm in government hospitals in Malaysia. The mentality of “ I have gone through it. You can therefore go through it too” continues to prevail.
I am more fortunate as a doctor in Britain. I clock in at 8am and clock out between 5pm and 6pm on a regular working day.
Very rarely, I would work longer than this. When I am on-call I work an average 12 to 13-hour shift. This is usually from Monday to Thursday or Friday to Sunday.
It can either start at 8am or 8pm. On a given month, I am on-call on average seven to nine days or nights and usually work only one weekend a month.
My sibling seems to work almost all weekends and weekdays.
What is classified as an on-call shift over here is my sibling’s normal daily working shift in Malaysia.
As for career development, I am encouraged to attend courses, conferences and sit for my exams.
I am fortunate that this comes out of my study leave entitlement and not annual leave as happens in Malaysia.
It is laudable that the Health director-general has taken a personal interest and a hotline has been established to look into the mental health of doctors.
However, change has been slow. Why are the houseman still being overworked?
Both the houseman and patients’ lives are in danger. The young houseman who is not well rested or nourished cannot think on his feet when there is a crisis in the ward or on the road.
The Health Ministry has been derelict in its duty to provide quality and optimum healthcare for its own staff. It is driving the young doctors crazy.