House Officer In Hell – Dr James Jeremiah

During my housemanship at Sultanah Aminah Johor Bahru Hospital in the 1980s, a specialist used to abuse us HOs verbally, kick us, and throw case notes and scream profanities at us in front of patients and nurses.

I write this article with:

“… malice towards none, with charity for all…”

Abraham Lincoln

At my medical posting in Johor Bahru as an HO (house officer), I had the unfortunate experience of working under a specialist in the medical unit. Let’s call him Dr G. A beast he was.

He used to abuse us verbally, kick us physically, throw case notes at us, and scream profanities. These were his common antics, all in full view of patients and nurses. It was a very demoralising time for us, the newly graduated doctors popularly known as house officers.

On an ordinary day, at every department, our posting started around 6.30am and ended around 11pm at the earliest. That was about 16 hours of work daily; with quick lunch or dinner breaks in between.

If the HO is on call, he or she starts from 6.30am till 6.30am the next day and is expected to report to work on the same day at 8am to 11pm. That’s a straight 40 hours of work.

We were given one day off every two weeks – and this was considered a very generous consideration for us HOs.

It was hard work and I think the majority of us house officers took it positively as a learning curve. But at what cost? Did our patients get the best of care, were great blunders made, irreparable injuries caused, or even avoidable fatalities incepted on our patients?

A correct-minded thinker will definitely say a big “yes” to the above statement.

It is sad for me to learn that 37 years later, nothing has changed. House officers are still burdened with unimaginable and unacceptable long hours in the 21st century of Malaysian health care management. To add to these unacceptable “working norms” – abuse etc – is still not uncommon till today.

For the record, I did my housemanship in the year 1985-86 at Sultanah Aminah Johor Bahru Hospital.

Not all the medical officers (MOs) and specialists were like Dr G. I’m happy to state that many MOs and specialists were benevolent enough knowing that this was our training period and that we were enduring long hours.

I particularly wish there were more specialists and registrars like Dr Sham and Dr Arul of the surgical unit at that time, who were very understanding and were ready to part generously with their practical knowledge to us junior officers.

I hope and pray that the recent deaths and other unacceptable episodes of junior doctors will be taken seriously by the authorities and not merely be an academic exercise.

Dr James Jeremiah, a concerned fellow doctor, is the founder and chairman of the Permai Polyclinics Group of Sabah with 27 clinics all over Sabah. He has been in private practice for 32 years and is a strong advocate against HO bullying due to his own bitter experience in JB. HOs who wish to contact Dr James may WhatsApp him at 019-850 8855.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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