Forum: Alternatives to house officers' long shifts may come with attendant complications

Making junior house officers work 30- to 36-hour shifts up to twice a week is a ritual that the local medical fraternity has lived with for a long time (Long working hours leaving young doctors exhausted, Feb 8).

It may sound worse than it really is. During my time as a house officer, even under the duress of stamina-sapping work hours, I don't remember any of us cracking under pressure. It was a rite of passage that strengthened our resolve to become better physicians.

There are, of course, solutions to the problem, if it is considered one.

We could always train more doctors, allow fourth- and final-year medical students to assume more responsibilities normally tasked to house officers, or get specially trained nurses to attend to patients' needs where this is applicable.

These proposed solutions come with attendant complications though.

Anecdotally, doctors in institutional practice are already complaining that opportunities for specialist training are getting scarcer by the year. So what would a larger pool of trained doctors do after their housemanship except remain as institutional medical officers or join the already saturated private sector as general practitioners?

Getting medical students to help out before they are provisionally registered to practise medicine is fraught with legal complications.

Having trained nursing personnel assume some doctors' duties is feasible but in the face of patients' expectations, there would be problems too.

In the end, members of the medical fraternity need to help one another out. When I was deluged by work as a house officer decades ago, I came across senior medical officers who refused to help me while they leisurely sipped coffee in the doctors' lounge. We can always help others even if it's not our responsibility to.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

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