Failing to Sleep on the Job


Another sad tale from Malaysia.  A couple of days ago, a young trainee doctor was found dead in a restroom at the hospital where he worked.  The 29 year old was found together with a used syringe and attempts to revive him failed.  He was due to hold a wedding party in December.

Early reports had claimed that the trainee doctor had been on 24 hour call for at least 5 consecutive days and had worked in excess of 70 hours in the last week.  The hospital denies this claiming that such working conditions for trainee doctors have ceased with the introduction of a new Graduate Medical Officer Flexi Timetable system to address complaints about the long hours leading to mental health problems and depression amongst doctors.

The new system was introduced in September last year and under the system, trainee doctors can only be made to work a maximum of 60 hours a week and must have two rest days a week.  Authorities claim that there is no evidence that doctors were still being overworked.  However, reports of overworked doctors persist.

Many claim that the implementation of the new system has either been ignored by some hospital administrators or was not implementable because there aren’t enough doctors.  There are some statistics which might indicate that this is the situation.  Due to work pressures, a large number of doctors are being referred to the Malaysian Medical Council for review  for mental conditions and depression – an average of  5 cases per month.  In October 2011, after the new system was supposed to have been implemented, there were 20 such cases.

The current police theory is that the young doctor in the current case died from overdosing on some as yet unidentified drug that he was taking to help him cope with the long work hours and stay awake.  If true then, it is indeed a serious situation affecting both doctors and their ability to treat their patients.

If true, then a young doctor has lost his life, sacrificed either on the altar of despicable negligence of either the petty little Napoleans that are the hospital administrators of some hospitals or betrayed by the failure of the whole system to protect both doctors and their patients.

What a waste of a life that had so much potential.

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25 thoughts on “Failing to Sleep on the Job”

  1. This is a tragedy. We all need more good doctors and should not be allowing a system to be in place that would ruin it for everyone (doctors and patients, not to mention the respective families of each). It makes me a little nervous about going into any hospital.

  2. This is so sad. I think seeing the responsible work of doctors , 60 hours work is still far too much. I agree an enormous waste of valuable life. Something should be done about it

  3. LGS, this is not just a waste of life and of talent but completely preventable. I have had friends working in the medical profession and I marvel at how physically driven much of their academic training must be. Here in the States the extended work hours have been modified in recent years, but it is still grueling. Apparently no one cares that judgment is greatly impaired by lack of sleep, not even taking into account what it does to the student doctor (or anyone else, for that matter) physically. Is this how the profession rewards those who would devote their lives to healing? What a travesty. Rest in peace.

  4. While doctors do need to have stamina, the training currently in place for this is clealy not working. I wonder how many people have died in hospitals because the doctor on duty was in his 23rd hour? What a tragedy for any of those people and what a tragedy for this young man’s family.

  5. While a tragedy for this young man he too is a victim of the system of medicine that really only counted him as a file number and not a human being.

  6. This kind of thing is unfortunately not rare in the medical world. Too often residents are required to work 120+ hour weeks and the end result often is devastating. Imagine if a loved one passed away in the hospital and it was determined that his/her care was messed up because an exhausted doctor made a mistake. You can bet your last dollar that the hospital would find a way to make this doctor the sacrificial lamb, mouth platitudes about changing the current way of doing business, then continue doing the business the exact same way.

  7. So sad but true! Hospitals, teaching hospitals are the worse: are not the safest place to be when medically needed. Patients and their families have to be watchful and questioning. Mistakes are made every day. Doctors and nurses are human and some hospitals forget that. Money tends to be the ruling interest with the administration.

  8. VioletSky,
    Unfortunately it is a fact that overworked doctors and green interns on a learning curve do add to mortality in hospitals.

    Marja,
    Apparently, part of the problem is that the more senior doctors bully junior doctors into taking on more shifts.

  9. Caryn,
    Perhaps someone needs to do an expose on this showing how patients’ lives are put at risk from over-tired physicians, then maybe pressure from public and insurance firms may result in actual positive changes.

    geewits,
    Indeed a tragedy for everyone. But sometimes it takes a lot of push to overcome the inertia and change a system. But we have to push. I wouldn’t want anyone I love to be treated by a doctor that is over-tired or on drugs.

  10. Mark,
    You are correct. This is another example of the result of making decisions based on numbers instead of human needs.

    G.B.
    I hope your own experieces with the medical profession are more pleasant and your health care-givers are not similarly handicapped.

  11. That’s a problem here as well. And not only does it endanger the young doctors, it also puts their patients at risk I know I don’t want someone who is exhausted doing surgery or some procedure on me, or even making decisions about my care.

  12. How awful! Can you imagine if your child went to the emergency room and saw that doctor? You, your child, and the doctor are caught in this draconian situations where only the greedy corporation and their share holders profit. Good lord that’s really horrible.

  13. Joyce is right, medical trainig hospitals are realy difficult. It was for years and years practice here that the young doctors had to take the emergeny and stand-by duties, often for more than two days in a row. Some years ago it became better because they went on strike and got it through that the time when they were “off duty” ( that is sleeping, but in the hospital, on the station, and ready to be kicked out of bed) were counted into their duty time.
    Seriously, no kidding.
    Abuse … I heared about it, but most avoided injections. The emergency case containes interesting things, no need to push.

  14. This is such a terribly sad story, and will send ripples into the entire community as well as the young doctor’s family. Yes, it truly is a waste of a most promising young life. I hope the administrators don’t cover up their unconscionable practices by stating that he was taking a recreational drug, thus blaming the victim.

  15. Hello – how are you, LGS? I vanished in MiddleFranconia for the last weeks (with terrible internet access), but heared with half-an-ear that there were (or are?) some turbulences in KL – I hope you and your family are safe and well.

  16. Exactly. A waste of a life with so much potential. What a very sad story, and I believe it happens everywhere, doctors burned out (and at what cost to patients) before they ever reach the point of having their own practices and making a decent wage.

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