Being a doctor has historically been a stressful job.
There is a common myth in the society that doctors live a cushy life once they have their degrees and also the misconceived notion that they make a lot of money once they are out of college.
What most people don’t know is the number of hours that doctors spend being who they are. Working 60-80 hours a week in hospitals, managing private practices, dealing with the pressure of interacting multiple patients with numerous symptoms and having next to no sleep it’s no wonder that physicians have little to no time to take care of themselves.
So how is a doctor’s lifestyle taking a toll on his health?
An average physician works for 72 hours a week in India, with a 36 hour shift per week. Without mandatory restricted call hours, a doctor is awake continuously for more than 24 hours at a stretch. This not only creates a danger for patients but for the doctor also.
Sleep deprivation causes loss of cognitive function, so a doctor returning home after a 36 hour shift is more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident.
It’s time to get up and say, Doctors are humans, they need sleep.
According to a survey, 40% of doctors are addicted to some substance, ranging from tobacco to opiates. With the stressful life one leads, it does not even come as a surprise. Drug abuse amongst physicians is not a new problem, but it is a persistent one. Most doctors don’t turn to drugs for recreation, they try to find solace out of their physical, emotional or mental pain in them.
Most of the studies cite physician suicide at 40 out of 100,000 as compared to the general ratio of 12.5 out of 100,000. This means a physician is twice likely to kill himself/herself than the normal population.
Staying away from family and missing out on crucial events takes its toll which commonly leads to depression. Depression has been a common problem for doctors, what makes it deadly is the delay in recognition and the hesitation to approach for help. According to a study, 46% of physicians have been a victim of depression at some point of their career.
A recently published article in Indian Express reported that a journalist tailed a junior resident for 36 hours and found out that all he ate during those hours were 8 bananas. Yes, 8 bananas in 36 hours, and the person is supposed to make sound medical judgements.
When a person has no time to eat, should we be surprised that they gorge on unhealthy, fat filled food whenever they have time?
Physicians are undergoing tremendous amount of work stress. A study in 2015 placed the number at 43%. It is not just the older generation that goes through burnout after years of practice, but it is also rampant in the younger generation. When young doctors who enter practice with the dream to serve people get stuck in the bureaucratic administrative system, they lose their passion to work. This is ultimately leading to burnout in younger doctors too.
Physician are the least likely people to seek help but they are the ones who need it the most. Both the students and the practitioners deal with health issues and very little effort has been taken to address that. With the higher suicide rates among doctors and a large chunk giving in to burnout, that time is not far when India will face an acute shortage of doctors. It’s time to stand up and give Care to our Caregivers.