Surgery in progress in the OT
A file photo of surgery in progress (Representational image) | Commons
Text Size:

New Delhi: 15-hour shifts, no break rooms, no sleep, food or water — tired of such working conditions, resident doctors with coveted degrees from some of the top medical colleges in India are coming together to tell the central government that they are being “overworked”.

The resident doctors have launched an ‘I Am Overworked’ campaign and have been mobilising graduate and postgraduate students in government medical college hospitals “across states like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala”.

Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, former president of the resident doctors’ association, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told the ThePrint that the doctors will use the campaign to send recently appointed Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan a letter with their complaints.

The doctors also plan to send letters to deans of all medical colleges in India, use social media campaigns to boost visibility and increase pressure, and wear an ‘I Am Overworked’ badge on their scrubs on a chosen day of this summer.

There will be no strike or protest, the doctors say, but add that a “message needed to be sent”.

“The health minister’s job isn’t’ merely to privatise the healthcare industry — if it was, then anyone could do the job,” Bhatti said. “We’re hoping the health minister, who is also a doctor, will better understand our pain because he’s been through it himself.”

According to Bhatti, even the suicide of Maharashtra doctor Payal Tadvi was a consequence of more than just caste discrimination. “Resident doctors said that an unmanageable workload was also a major consideration in her death,” he said. “When junior doctors commit suicide, we must also factor in that they are being made to work over 15 hours a day with no rest, often without easy access to food, water and break-rooms.”


Also read: Less than 20% with foreign MBBS degrees eligible to work as doctors in India


All in a day’s work

Bhatti said that he has seen his fellow residents break down, cry and scream during their shift, adding that some of his friends can’t even sleep for the four hours they get at night “because we dream about patients and paperwork”.

Alok Kumar, the head of the Indian Medical Association’s resident student wing in Delhi, said that “one of our biggest demands is the proper implementation of the Central Residency Scheme, which so far has been flouted across hospitals”.

The scheme, created following a Supreme Court order in 1992, limits the working hours for junior residents to 12 hours a day and grants a weekly off-day on a rotation basis.

“But there are days when we work between 8 am and 4 am the next day,” resident doctor Abdullah at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Aligarh, told ThePrint. “If we have a double duty that week, then barring a cumulative 7-8 hour break, we end up working for 56 hours,” Abdullah added, explaining that the primary problem is that “the number of residents hasn’t changed in the past 10-15 years”.

“But the stream of patients has increased manifold,” he said.

The numbers bear him out. According to data released by the health ministry in June last year, there is only one government allopathic doctor per 11,082 population, one government hospital bed per 1,844 population and one state-run hospital for every 55,591 population.

The situation is so dire in the country that a 2017 study in the medical journal BMJ Open pegged the average time that primary care physicians spend with patients in India at an abysmal 2 minutes.

“It is concerning that a large proportion of the global population has only a few minutes with their primary care physicians,” the report concluded. “Such a short consultation length is likely to adversely affect patient healthcare and physician workload and stress.”

Unrealistic expectations?

Not everyone, however, is siding with the resident doctors.

Dr Anoop Mishra, who has been a personal physician to two former prime ministers and is currently serving as the chairman of the Fortis Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol (C-DOC), admits that residents, both senior and junior, are largely not in control of their time, but says that those of his generation “were more overworked 25 to 30 years ago, when there was nothing, no scheduling at all”.

“Residents could work three days continuously without respite,” he said.

The veteran doctor remembers his time as a resident in AIIMS, saying that it was only in the 90s that he and his colleagues started getting a day off. “They are overworked, no doubt about it but this is how medicine works,” he said. “I won’t say it’s totally irrational or something that is cruel, because that is how we all learned — by doing more work than is usually expected of non-medical people.”

Dr Mishra, however, also clarified that the work culture depends significantly on the hospital in question. “In AIIIMs, you can’t admit more patients than there are beds, so the resident to patient ratio stays consistent,” he said. “But in Safdarjung Hospital, patients are lying on the floor, making which definitely makes residents overworked and compromises patient care.”

For Kumar, the normalisation of the ‘grind’ only adds to the problem.


Also read: Doctors may not realise it, but conflict of interest is norm in medicine


“Look at it this way,” he said. “A resident’s age is usually 24-26. It is a time when someone is striving towards stability. You come with a dream that if you study and work hard, sacrifice everything, then you’ll become a doctor. But you feel like you have no worth here, that seniors are humiliating you, that you’re being discriminated against for your caste, and that no one cares if you die of fatigue, then it all adds up to depression, emotional disturbance and complete exhaustion,” he added.

“It’s affecting their performance. If you are seeing an average of several thousand patients every year, how are you expected to remain focused and mentally present?” Dr Bhatti asks.

  • The copy has been updated with an additional quote from Dr Anoop Mishra.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

11 COMMENTS

  1. The explanation “..this is how medicine works…” reveals an archaic and retrograde mentality fit for the 18th century. The irony is that practices such as these are prevalent in the field of medicine, a field that is based on scientific thought and meant to improve physical and mental health of all humanity! I have observed PG medical education in the recent past and can say with certainty there is no logical reason for such torturous practices to continue, shorter shifts and a day off is a human right and an absolute necessity. I sincerely hope that common sense prevails soon and doesn’t let what is clearly a counter-productive system continue. Are the authorities listening?

  2. Right now I am also forced to work for more than 16 hours a day without any day off for last 1 month as first year Medicine Resident in one of the government medical college in Gujarat.
    I approached the HOD…but his reply was… this is the cultural…and we cannot change this for you…
    I don’t know where to go now…If I go against them …they threatened to BOYCOTT me

  3. Dr. Mishra is thinking that he is still in British ruled India. In an Independent free India, he shouldn’t insist for 24/7 working hours for Senior Resident Doctors.
    How to implement the orders of Honerable Supreme Court’s order. Dr. Bhatt Sab has to help the poor Senior Residents. Senior Doctors of all Medical Colleges should help them on humanitarian grounds. Engineers work only 7 hours per day for 5 days in a week. But the status of Senior Doctors is misserable due to indifferent attitude of Senior Doctors of all most all Medical Colleges Senior Resident Doctors are suffering.

  4. 15 hours is minimum. It’s average 18 hours a day. That too on non call days. On call days it is 36-40 hours.

    If you don’t believe this then go to KEM hospital in Mumbai and see the routine of resident doctors. They are scared of the administration. Only media can expose this. It’s so depressing for the brilliant minds of our country.

  5. Dr MISHRA’S COMMENT reveals the attitude and viewpoint of the senior doctors.Just because they toiled themselves too much it doesn’t mean that the present generation also has to do so.THAT means a preposterous and tormenting system has been continuing for decades without any objection.This should stop here.Either this system will continue with suicides of brilliantly talented young Indian citizens who unfortunately became doctors or let’s strive for a change.Let the public decide

  6. People like Dr Mishra are the problem. By passing on the stupid adage ” this is how we did it” and making terrible working conditions as a rite of passage and something which should be considered normal, these buffoons propagate a sickening prehistoric trend of insane working hours, public humiliation etc to the coming generations as well. No wonder medical fraternity is filled with such people who unwaveringly walk their egotistical high ground without fail. Residents should not be overworked and humiliated but should be nurtured to make them the best possible doctor and importantly human first. Peace

  7. Certainly, the govt needs to rationalize the working hours of the doctors on duty in all the hospitals—govt as well as private sector. An attentive doctor cannot work for more than 8 to 9 hours per day . Beyond this a doctor also needs suitable rest so that next day he can work again with energy, enthusiasm and focus .

  8. Certainly it’s TRUE in obg it’s even more worse people work for 48 to 72 hr shift…..but no one bothers…we are also human being….atleast treat us like a human….not robot. 🙏

  9. Wow! But, apart from these resident doctors, all other govt. doctors are only working in their private clinics, forget official duty….

  10. To learn work u need not do 15 hrs of work daily, u can learn even with 12 hrs if work maximum daily with a day off next to night duty…we are not donkeys to work like that…we human beings require some space between the work..we are not asking to curtail duty hrs to just 8 hrs per day

Comments are closed.