Review how young docs are trained

The association between "burnout" in doctors and performance, including lower levels of empathy, no doubt exists (Young doctors here feeling burnt-out, says study; Nov 20).

What really underlies this phenomenon? Is it a physical, mental, psychological, social or cultural factor, or a combination of factors?

Emotional exhaustion, lack of personal accomplishment and depersonalisation are telling signs of significant frustration.

This arises from more than unpredictable work schedules and heavy workloads.

We may need to look at how the culture of medical practice, teaching and assessment, and the expectations of young doctors have changed over the years.

Soul searching is needed by the entire medical academia and organisation.

What have we provided to guide and nurture young doctors? Have we fallen short in our duties as senior colleagues to our younger peers? Are the demands and expectations on them too high, impractical and unrealistic?

Gone are the days when teaching and mentoring were part of the daily routine.

In the past, young doctors worked alongside senior doctors during daily ward rounds and outpatient and inpatient work. Senior doctors were generally accessible and ready to teach.

But this changed when hospitals were restructured and performance indicators were shifted.

Young doctors are losing the valuable experience of clinical training. They are sometimes reprimanded and penalised for mistakes, but are not taught or guided through them. They may even be vulnerable to senior doctors who hold the power to dictate their training and progress.

An honest review and audit of our training system for young doctors is necessary. This will enable us to understand what makes them "emotionally exhausted" and "depersonalised".

It goes beyond just tweaking their workload and spotting those who are already burnt out.

Considering the time, effort and money put into training our doctors, I would say that in the case of burnout, "prevention is better than cure".

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Review how young docs are trained'. Print Edition | Subscribe