How doctors DE-STRESS

Doctors, whom we trust with our lives, are increasingly reporting emotional burnout, strained nerves and acute physical exhaustion due to long working hours and increasing patient load among other reasons.Bindu Shajan Perappadan talks to a few medical professionals about how they unwind, relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance

On January 30, a senior radiologist of a government hospital here died by suicide. A release issued by the hospital a day later attributed the death to “pressure at workplace caused due to harassment by colleagues”.

In 2017, a resident doctor at the same hospital ended his life after his shift. The deceased left behind a note stating: “Happiness is missing from my life… I am not satisfied”.

Such cases are regularly being reported from hospitals across the city, and doctors cite long working hours as a major reason for increasing stress among medical professionals. Even though the Delhi Health Department, last year, had assured government doctors that a single shift would not exceed 12 hours, the regulation is being flouted everywhere, say doctors.

“Hospitals forget that we are human beings who start mentally shutting down after many hours of work. Delhi government hospitals suffer from acute staff crunch at all levels. The patient load is increasing at phenomenal speed… The dispensaries and mohalla clinics are a welcome step but that has not eased the strain on staff and infrastructure in city hospitals. No doctor here works for less than 18 hours a day. That barely leaves us time to catch up on our sleep. For most of us, our re-creation is to sleep eight hours a day and maybe go for a meal with family and friends,” says a senior physician at Delhi’s largest government hospital.

Several hospitals and medical colleges now offer free counselling and support group for doctors and medical students to cope with increasing strain. Most medical professionals have also realised the importance of ‘self-care’ and have found simple hobbies and activities that they carve time out for to relax and unwind.

“Work hours usually depend on seniority, speciality, and type of healthcare set-up where one works. A resident doctor in a government hospital usually works an average of 100 hours per week, whereas a consultant in a private/corporate hospital works for 60 to 80 hours a week,” says Manoj K. Singhal, director, Nephrology and Kidney Transplant, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Vaishali.

“Besides handling the medical conditions of the patients, most of the stress is in handling the anxiety and emotions of the family. Lately, there is add-on stress of increasing litigation and violence against healthcare professionals… Most of the time we have to sacrifice our health, social life and family life to attend to our duty,” says Dr. Singhal.

“To relax, I listen to classical Hindi music and read books. I enjoy cooking for my family and do so whenever I get the time,” he adds.

Richa Singh, senior consultant, IVF and Reproductive Medicine, Max Multi Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park, says: “Being an IVF specialist is very challenging – physically because of long work hours; and mentally and emotionally because we are constantly stressed due to pressures of giving success to couples struggling with infertility… Despite what most people may think, failure hits us just as badly as anyone else.”

Patients come to IVF specialists fully expecting that their infertility issues will be solved in the first try, says Dr. Singh, adding “To prepare a patient psychologically for the treatment, with all the aspects of success and failures, is the biggest challenge an IVF specialist faces routinely.”

“Despite all our efforts, there are a few couples who fail to conceive… We extend our emotional support, care and counselling to these patients so that they succeed the next time… Amid all these successes and failures, we attend workshops and conferences to keep updated… There is hardly any time for yourself, but I do make time to listen to light music, or go on a short vacation. That is the way to stay energised,” says Dr. Singh.

Senior Psycho-oncologist, Max Institute of Cancer Care, Hina Siddiquisays a major challenge for most doctors is figuring out a way to deal with the emotional burden of giving care to patients.

Emotional burden

“A common question raised by healthcare professionals is: ‘How to manage the emotional burden of care?’ A regular workday requires me to be around cancer patients and their caregivers for about 8-10 hours a day. There is high demand for my attention, empathy and presence of mind. No two individuals have the same concerns and as a psycho-oncologist, one has to use subjective understanding to tackle complaints,” says Dr. Siddiqui.

Speaking about what keeps her going, she says: “Self-care has to be priority.”

“If the work gets overwhelming, I reach out to colleagues, peers or mentors for guidance and I delegate whenever I can. I make it a point to adopt a healthy lifestyle (exercise and eating healthy) plus there is nothing like talking to co-workers for support, sharing a joke with staff or finding happiness in small incidences can go a long way in coping with stress,” says Dr. Siddiqui.

Senior Ortho-surgeon, Apollo Hospital, Yash Gulati, says his love for poetry and music is what sustains him. “It is important to have something you love and to indulge in it regularly to stay fresh and positive.”

For Udgeath Dhir, director and head, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, cycling is a stress-buster. “Cycling is the best part of my day. During vacations I make sure that I cycle with my family,” he says.

“My day starts at 5.30 a.m. when I receive a call from my department duty doctor updating me on the status of admitted patients. When I am sure that my patients are stable I go for cycling, which is one of the biggest relaxation exercise I do. Minimum 30 minutes is mandatory,” he says.

Tapaswini Pradhan, senior consultant, Head and Neck Cancer, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, says that physical activities such as jogging, running, meditation and yoga for at least 30-40 minutes out in the open keeps her fresh.

“Operating on patients may be stressful for some, but for me it is stress buster… for me, it is a form of meditation. My operating theatre always has good music playing,” she says.

“Best thing in my life is playing sitar… it gives me immense pleasure and its calming notes are soul stirring,” she says.

Rajendra Prasad, senior consultant, Spine Surgeon, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, says that a good workout helps him de-stress.

“My day usually starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. I try to meditate on the way home, but what really relaxes me is my time at the gym. Exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel good. So, all the stress goes away after doing cardio such as treadmill or cycling. While exercising I also listen to music,” says Dr. Prasad.

Suicide prevention helpline: Sanjivini, Society for Mental Health, Telephone: 011-4076 9002, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7.30 p.m.

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