You will be 'drunk tired' wishing you could die so you can rest - medical intern on working in public hospitals

Tyler Olson/ 123RF.com
Tyler Olson/ 123RF.com

“You will be drunk tired at 3am wishing a terminally ill patient could keel over or you could die so that you can rest.”

That is what medical intern Dr Nthabi Motaung wrote on December 7 last year in a Facebook post that went viral.

Honesty : Being a medical intern in the SA department of health has wrecked my well-being this year.My sick leave days...

Posted by Nthabi Motaung on Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Sunday morning in an interview with eNCA‚ she said the emotional burnout from working long hours in public hospitals was often worse than the physical fatigue.

“I feel detached from myself most of the time‚ because I spend most of my time at work‚ so I don’t get time to reconnect with myself. When I feel detached‚ I feel like‚ ‘Who am I?’ Sometimes I ask myself‚ ‘Am I still the person that I am? Do I still like the things that I like? Do I still like my job?’

“You feel like a shell of yourself‚ because you pour so much of yourself into the system and there are so many sick people and it’s overwhelming. It’s a constant stressor‚ because you’re surrounded by sick people every day. A lot of them die‚” Motaung said.

She said it often starts as burnout before one resorts to other coping mechanisms.

You feel like a shell of yourself‚ because you pour so much of yourself into the system and there are so many sick people and it’s overwhelming.

“Some people engage in consuming alcohol or if you realise your symptoms‚ you go out and seek professional help from a psychologist that you can just speak to.”

According to Motaung‚ intern doctors are supposed to work 40 hours per week and be on standby for an extra 80 hours per month.

“But it’s not actually 80 hours‚ because you end up having to stay beyond the 26 hours and go 30 hours of constantly working. We have hours‚ we have rules in place‚ but in reality they don’t work.”

She added: “There is not much time to teach us as well … We end up‚ especially in academic hospitals‚ being like the paper pushers‚ booking scans and all that.”

The emotional and physical fatigue has led to Motaung questioning and sometimes regretting that she studied medicine in the first place‚ given that academically these students have a range of options.

“In hindsight‚ I had no idea what being a doctor in South Africa entails‚” she wrote on Facebook.”

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