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Thursday, November 30, 2006

We Should Treat New Doctors with Basic Decency

Becoming a doctor is a tough career path – the course is long and arduous and rather expensive and after graduation comes the dreaded housemanship where the new doctor is required to work long hours that can only result in exhaustion.

Being on call with no proper rest period for up to 34 hours can only result in flawed judgement calls and possibly cause deaths in hospitals.

Older doctors may claim that they all went through the regime and survived but does that mean that the system cannot be improved?

We have laws on public transport drivers where there must be a relief driver on long distance trips and maximum overtime for drivers as it is considered dangerous to the public when the driver operates a vehicle in a state of exhaustion but can we not also look at our young doctors miserable working conditions?

I suggest an exhausted doctor can cause more deaths than a driver as the authorities may not be willing to disclose deaths caused by a flawed system.

Looking at the long hours worked, let us make some estimate of the potential victims that may lose their lives.

Assume a doctor operates in the exhaustion stage once every 2 days, that will give us 365 days divided by 2 or 182 times in a year.

Suppose he makes a fatal judgement call 10% of the time in those 182 exhaustion periods, that would give us 18 deaths per doctor per annum.

If we have 1000 new doctors each year, that will result in 18000 deaths per annum caused by a flawed system.

No doubt having in work to the point of exhaustion can provide a steep learning curve but the public should be asked if they want to be the test material.

photo: Daughter's convocation 2006 Dalhousie medical graduates.

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