For most medicos, life is a hard day’s work, with little glory
Back-breaking shifts, hardly any time for sleep or food— the life of a resident doctor in India is a far cry from the “glamour” attached to the profession. Apart from the tiring work pressure, they are also the ones left to face threats and abuse, and sometimes even violence, from disgruntled victims’ kin, when things go south.
On National Doctor’s Day, celebrated to commemorate the birth and death anniversary of Dr BC Roy, an eminent Indian physician philanthropist, freedom fighter and politician who served as chief minister of West Bengal from 1948 until his death in 1962, HT spent Monday with a resident doctor, to get an inkling of a life spent at an Emergency ward.
“I haven’t been home since Saturday,” says Dr Bhupendra Gaidhane, a third-year resident at the department of plastic surgery at Lok Nayak Hospital near Delhi Gate, at 3pm Monday. Dr Gaidhane arrived at the outpatient clinic of Delhi government’ hospital at 8am after finishing the morning rounds in Ward 21. This, after a night duty in the emergency on Sunday.
From 8am, he sat for seven hours surrounded by patients. The small consultation room has two doctors behind a desk, apart from a nurse and a guard. A three-seater sofa for patients, and an examination bed occupy the rest of the room. At any time, there are seven to 10 patients clamouring for his attention.
The chaos is just a normal day at work for Dr Gaidhane. He takes his time to calmly explain to each patient how to massage their limbs where a burn injury or a scar from surgery is healing to prevent the skin from shrinking and restricting movement.
Dr Gaidhane says his week starts with a day in the OPD. The next day is spent in the minor operation theatre where small suturing and surgery planning is done, and the third, at the operation theatre. Every fourth day of the week, he has a 36-hour shift during which time he also handles emergency patients.
On Monday, after every 10 or 15 minutes, he goes to the room next door to check on patients who are getting wound dressed.
Together with Dr Arun Goel, professor of plastic surgery, Dr Gaidhane treated 120 patients in the morning OPD clinic. The government extended OPD timings in its 33 hospitals by two hours in 2017 – from 9am to 1pm, the timings were changed to 8am to 2pm.
“This has not helped in easing the congestion as we had hoped — now, we just have more patients. Earlier, too, we stayed back till about 2pm to ensure all patients received a consultation. Now, we stay till 3pm. But the capacity of services has remained the same, so patients end up coming again to get tests done or to get medicines,” Dr Gaidhane said.
The extended hours spent by doctors at the OPD clinic are also the result of staff shortage. “There should have been six doctors consulting OPD patients today, as per the sanctioned strength. But, there are just two of us. I am the only senior faculty member in this unit, so I cannot even take a leave,” Dr Goel said.
At Lok Nayak, which has daily footfall of around 7,000 people in the OPD, only 69% of the posts for senior residents and specialists have been filled, according to the government’s outcome budget.
The tale of woes is the same for resident doctors at other hospitals, too. Dr Sunny Singhal, a senior resident at the department of geriatrics at AIIMS, said he lost 10kg in six months after joining the hospital as a junior resident.
“A typical day would begin with me collecting blood samples and doing the rounds. The OPD starts at 9am and then we head to the wards again. We have a one-hour lecture and that is usually at 4pm. We mostly learn by treating patients and what little reading we can squeeze in,” Singhal said.