As a parent to a house officer who just started training, I have been observing opinions from various parties regarding the current treatment or work conditions of house officers.
Among the opinions are that medical graduates are pressured into this field either by parents’ influence, peer pressure, or future financial gain.
Some also say that part of training is to make future doctors resilient in facing pressure when they manage patients. Others say that current house officers are strawberries who can’t stand pressure.
All the above are true to some extent.
In the medical faculty, medical students are often reminded of long working hours and sacrifices to make, especially during festivals, in order to provide optimal treatment to patients. They are exposed to on-calls out of office hours during their final year training.
However, when they complete medical training, why are they still not used to the system?
I would like to share the firsthand experience of my child, who is currently a house officer training at a public hospital in Selangor.
All house officers are required to go through a two-week tagging where they have to work from 7am to 11pm daily. During these two weeks, they are giving tasks to perform under the supervision of medical officers.
The senior will sign them off tag after two weeks if their work performance is satisfactory. After tagging, they will be working on shifts of 7am to 7pm (morning) or 7pm to 7am (night).
As they are fresh from school, they may be slow in getting their tasks completed. No one cares if they have time to go to the toilets or have a quick meal (lunch/dinner) while they are working. It is normal for house officers not to have time to have lunch and dinner until they clock out at 11pm.
My child experienced this for the two whole weeks of tagging and lost 8kg during this period. This is physical exhaustion, not to mention their sleep duration is also very short.
They have to reach the hospital at 6am the earliest, so that they have parking even though they start work at 7am. Whether they are bullied in the ward or not, they are already exhausted.
Senior doctors (senior house officers or medical officers) order junior doctors around to do favours for them, be it patient-related or personal. The newbies don’t dare to say no as they know they will need help from their seniors.
When these favours are not done correctly (without proper instructions from the seniors), the newbies are scolded publicly. No one owns up that it’s not actually the newbies’ job.
Despite having apologised, the newbie was shamed again in the WhatsApp group. If the newbie is mentally weak, with physical exhaustion and mental abuse; it is not surprising that tragedy can happen with an impulsive action.
The senior, who was supposed to sign the off-tag for the two-week tagging, appeared elusive and not bothered to do so. If the newbie is inefficient and needs additional training, he should say so and not be elusive.
Why did this happen? Did the seniors not go through tagging and understand what should be done? Is it to show he has power over the newbie or that he went through the same experience of which the newbie should also undergo?
Have medical schools failed in training medical students? Are they taught how to respect their seniors, peers, and patients? A lot of work may be done on how to treat patients holistically and on patient-centred management, but do they need to be taught how to treat their juniors?
Or did they observe what happened among the seniors and followed suit? Must all house officers go through severe physical and mental challenges before they can be good doctors in future?
Can team members within the ward check if the newbies have time for a quick meal and cover them for a short while or get them something so that they can have a quick bite in the ward?
I think these are basic human needs. I feel ashamed that newbies are deprived of meals while working in public hospitals.
As a parent, I can’t do anything with the hospital nor the Ministry of Health, but I tried to listen and motivate my child as much as possible. Parents should not brush them aside and tell them that this is normal.
We should be there to listen to them. I told my child to learn from mistakes and to never inflict his experience onto juniors in future.
I am not going to comment on what the Ministry of Health, the Malaysian Medical Association, or the faculties of medicine should do.
I am sure a lot of work is being done now. We hope to receive some guidelines in preventing physical and mental abuse in the health care setting, especially for house officers who are starting their career in medicine.
The author is the parent of a house officer currently in training. CodeBlue is publishing this article anonymously because the author is afraid of repercussions on her son.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.