Monday, March 13, 2006

Doctors get stressed too!

In light of recent events, I must point out to all doctors (and other medical professionals) that stress is a daily part of our work, and that there are things that can be done about it.

Unfortunately we work in a profession that is gradually being broken up into little pieces. Doctors used to do everything, make diagnoses, do the laboratory tests, check our own histology, grind up our medicines, dress all the wounds, counsel the patients, and lead them through their exercise and rehabilitation program. Nurses have always been our partners in most of this care.

Increasingly, much of our work is now delegated, either to other specialist colleagues (pathology, radiology) or to other, newer, allied health groups such as physiotherapists, psychologists, radiographers, occupational therapy, dietetics, anaesthetic technicians, phlebotomists, ECG technicians. While their roles are quite clearcut, the doctor's role is no longer. Like ward nurses, we have to pick up, sort out, and deal with any problems or issues that falls into the cracks between these other groups. We become a hospital "dumping ground" because if something is nobody else's fault or problem, it is still ours when we come back to work the next day. Even worse, we bear the brunt of the social and medicolegal responsibility of all of this work, and that responsibility does not stop at 5.30pm on weekdays.

On top of all of that, we deal with the whole spectrum of human emotions with our patients, and then we are expected to go home and balance our personal lives in the midst of overwhelming work and study requirements. It is not surprising that the incidence of "burnout", "nervous breakdowns" and suicides among doctors is among the highest of all professions. Interestingly, attempted suicides are rare among doctors... knowledge and access means that they almost always succeed.

So if you feel that you or a colleague are over-stressed, not coping, depressed, overwhelmed, or unsafe, then take a step back. Take a deep breath, look objectively at what damage you are doing to yourself, your patients, and your family. If the problem is not one you can solve alone, then turn to someone who can help, whether it be your professional association, a friend, or an organisation like the VDHP.

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