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Friday January 11, 2013

Long hours part of doctor’s calling

I READ the letter “Stressed from still working long hours” (The Star, Jan 8) with great interest.

I will not take part in yet another housemen-bashing session because I do not think I have the right to do so. I am, in fact, a fresh product of today’s housemanship programme.

However, the senior doctors would understandably read the letter with disgust and feel the complaint is unacceptable, given the way they themselves had been trained previously, and being able to run an entire ward single-handedly when there were only a few of them.

My opinion is that there are certain sacrifices you ought to make to be deserving of the “Doctor” title in front of your surname. Long hours of working is one of them.

Medicine is such a unique field that mere theoretical knowledge attained from medical school would not be sufficient.

You need good practical skills. You need to see more patients to sharpen your judgment and even if you make mistakes, you learn not to repeat them.

All these come from, paradoxically, long hours of working.

Even as medical officers or specialists, you have to come in during weekends, public holidays or in the wee hours of the morning, when duty calls. What more for us juniors.

There is a joke that the reason we are called House-Officer is we have to combine both our home and office together.

If you are looking for two days off a week as a doctor, I think you should reconsider your career path. Don’t be afraid of making such a decision.

I have friends who quit medicine, after working for many years, and went into other fields because they were not willing to make such sacrifices. Big men make big decisions and the earlier you decide, the better for you.

Expectations are high in our working place, from both the patients and superiors. New doctors who join the fraternity would feel the sense of inadequacy and realise the huge disparity between reality and expectation. There will be times when we feel frustrated, especially when we do not get the opportunity to practise medicine but are instead asked to do the work of a clerk or an office boy.

To a certain extent, that is true. But as a House-Officer, you ought to be able to do the house-keeping job as well and hopefully at the same time try to garner as much skill and knowledge as possible.

To the senior doctors, you must also be aware that current medical practices and the working landscape are very much different from your days. Just like in any other field, academic inflation is hitting the medical fraternity very hard.

The quality of medical graduates varies a lot, from the very knowledgeable and well-trained ones to some really disappointing ones.

However, I feel it serves no purpose to dwell too much on the quality, considering that all housemen have degrees recognised by law.

Instead, we should focus our ener­­­gy on ensuring all housemen passing each department bring with them the minimum level of knowledge and skills expected of a general doctor.

Nurses must also play their part and not pass disparaging remarks, suggesting that housemen are not real doctors yet. There are also stories of housemen being bullied to do nursing tasks. By right, nurses and other support staff members, especially the senior ones, should facilitate the learning journey of young doctors.