IT has been a tough time for Malaysia of late. We saw one of the biggest environmental disasters affecting thousands in Pasir Gudang, the senseless and devastating terrorist attack that took 50 lives in New Zealand, including a young Malaysian’s, and last Wednesday, we lost a member of the medical fraternity. A doctor was found dead in a hotel room in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.
The outpouring of grief was overwhelming, from social media platforms to private messaging groups. Everyone who knew him had only good things to say about him; bright, hardworking, well-liked. Doctors who didn’t, still felt the loss. We all mourned for him.
This letter is not about the circumstances of his death. It is about our responsibility as part of a fraternity to take care of our own.
As doctors, we accept the work is hard, never-ending and thankless. From the beginning, as house officers, we are pushed to the limit to build resiliency and to place duty above ourselves. This continues far into our careers and, somehow, we are just expected to find a way to manage.
But not everybody responds to the stress in the same way. We often come across doctors suffering from burnout, anxiety and depression. Given the type of work we do, the increasing demands doctors face, are we really surprised that it takes a toll on ourselves? No, we aren’t. Yet, one of our first reactions to a colleague struggling with working life is that he or she is “weak”, “not fit to be a doctor”, or simply needs to “toughen up”.
As part of the fraternity, we are equally responsible for the stress, pressure and stigma doctors face from the work. This is something we need to acknowledge and then start to fix.
No doctor should ever feel so helpless and overwhelmed until there is no place to turn to. It is our duty to look out for each other as much as we take care of our patients. We tell our patients to take better care of themselves but we do not heed our own advice or tell our colleagues to do the same.
Thus I implore all of my fellow colleagues to be a little kinder, to try to understand that not all doctors are built the same. And, most importantly, to extend a helping hand to those who need it.
As peers, supporting each other forms a camaraderie that will greatly help to manage the stress. As superiors, your experience is invaluable for young doctors to learn from.
It is time we created a healthier working environment amid all the stress, and do away with the stigma of doctors coping with issues.
We can only do that if we take responsibility and start now. Because if we do not take care of our own, who will?
DR KHOO YOONG KHEAN