A long line of patients is the never ending story of a doctor. Patient after patient needs to be seen day in and day out. Moments of rest come sparingly, and are hardly ever at the time they wish to have it. It is understandable that, at the height of immense stress, doctors would complain profusely about having too many patients. However, this doctor has observed that such complaints come predominantly from the trainee doctors or students - let's explore this phenomenon.

Complaints predominantly from trainee doctors or students

It is most common to hear such complaints from the trainee doctors/medical students group, as they have yet to fully internalize the workload involved in having many patients, nor the satisfaction it can actually bring. Being new to the profession, their perception of the workload of a doctor can differ greatly from reality.

According to a study done on medical school graduates from the University of Calgary in Canada, about 27% reported to experiencing a major turning point in their career either during or after residency training. Some said that they were not happy with their chosen speciality and the lifestyle that accompanied it. Others changed their minds after being exposed to other fields and mentors who made the other specialities more appealing. It is easy for trainee doctors or students to be overwhelmed by having too many patients, and their passion for treating the patients can be diminished by the workload before it can be fully explored.

Young doctors and medical students more likely to be highly stressed

There is a more pressing concern about this group. In the recent years, it has been reported that young doctors and medical students are more prone to depression and suicidal thoughts. A study by anxiety and depression group BeyonBlue in 2013 found that, compared to an average person, a doctor is five times more likely to be highly stressed. More worryingly was the finding that medical students and young doctors under the age of 30 were twelve times more likely to be highly stressed.

The study also found that 25% of the doctors in the survey contemplated suicide, with 2% actually attempting suicide before. A survey conducted by the Singapore Medical Association’s (SMA) Medical Officers’ Committee in 2003 have found that young doctors are low in morale due to an increasingly hostile work environment, such as demanding patients and lack of support by senior doctors. 42% of the respondents also noted long working hours as their biggest concern.

Evidently, the problem of low morale among young doctors and medical students is not a new phenomenon and may have even worsened over the last decade or so.

Optimism and support for the young doctors and medical students

According to Sir William Osler, M.D., "He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.” Undeniably, compassion and care for the patient lie at the core of healthcare, and a patient who walks through the door should be embraced as he or she carries knowledge that cannot be taught by medical books. As the healthcare sector worldwide continue to face a shortage in manpower, the number of patients that healthcare institution such as hospitals will only increase.

Individually, young doctors and medical students have to remain optimistic and be resilient. However, environmental factors should not be downplayed as well, and more support needs to be provided to help young doctors and medical students internalise their love for the patients to persevere in a highly stressful work environment. MIMS

Read more:
Rising suicide rates among medical students rings alarm bells for profession
Doctors and Medical Students More Prone to Depression, Suicide
Managing stress helps prevent physician burnout