Saturday, February 01, 2014

One cannot learn empathy and care - Dr Pravin Peraba

HOUSE officers (HO) in government hospitals seem to be a controversial lot. I am a senior doctor in one of the government hospitals and interact a lot with HOs. So are they really that problematic?
The answer is not really. I want to refrain from comparing what the working hours used to be previously. Yes we worked 100-hour weeks and they only have to do 65-75 hours under the new Health Ministry directive.
The way to look at this is two-fold. Firstly that 65-75 hours is still a sizeable amount of time. In comparison, a person with a conventional five-day week job, may work between 45-60 hours a week depending on overtime.
So it is not as if these junior doctors are getting a free ride. Second, while we did have to work the way we did, we were a product of the times, we should be happy that kind of unreasonable labour is improving and not constantly use it to drum our chests in perceived superiority when dealing with HOs.
So why are there more parents complaining, despite what is, in most accounts a reduction in work load? Simply put, the much larger numbers of new doctors mean a larger pool of parents.
Also the avenues for complaints are far more accessible in this day and age. The number of aunties and uncles on Facebook is staggering! It’s not that our mums and dads weren’t concerned, they were as well. It just wasn’t in their nature in the past to create mountains out of molehills.
What about the HOs themselves? Even they have more access to social media, medical union groups and blogs so there are bound to be those who gripe. Some with good reason, others much less so.
The important thing to note here is that the majority of the HOs I have worked with have been fairly responsible and diligent. Gone are the days where we can expect them all to be of high calibre.
The ministry’s new directives are aimed at making HOs feel more connected and with a sense of ownership over the management of their patients. This is an area in huge need of improvement. Knowledge is important, all HOs should have a good basis in core medical knowledge provided by the medical school. However, they don’t have to be so immersed in a particular speciality. That’s what we are here for, to guide, teach, assess and ultimately supervise them.
What we can’t teach however is empathy and care for patients. This must come from within. Most universities have introduced empathy training or professional development modules but really, teach them to care?! So this is the area I want to see all HOs improve, be they my ex-students, my current HOs or even those currently completing their medical degrees.
Care for your patients, they are somebody’s father, mother, sister or brother. They are somebody’s son or daughter. They are not diseases, they are people with hopes, dreams, aspirations just like you. They may have a different skin colour, race, political ideology but ultimately are your brother or sister.
When you interact with them, always start by offering your name and a smile. This cannot really be taught, it’s a reflection of your values and personality. Don’t view them as working hours, someone I have to quickly examine and take blood from, so I can leave as soon as my shift is over.
View them as your patients, because you are the front line of the managing team, take an interest in the final outcome. You may spend only the length of your shift with them, but in that time you have hopefully contributed in saving a life or curing an illness. Take pride in that for that is what we do. Everyone in their respective jobs make a difference in the world, we make a difference on a level that yields more scrutiny than most.
In the greater scheme of things, you probably aren’t going to get a gift or even a ‘thank you’ in most cases. That, however, does not matter. It is our duty and more importantly our pleasure to be able to serve.
Seeing our patient walk away, seeing a healthy newborn, these are the rewards we should crave. So no, not all HOs are bad, nor are they all fantastic.
Thus HOs, remember, better healthcare, better patients, better human beings all start with you.

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