MARCH 21 — It has been a tough week for Malaysia. We saw one of the biggest environmental disasters affecting thousands in Pasir Gudang, the senseless and devastating terrorist attack that took 50 lives in New Zealand, including a young Malaysian, and on Wednesday evening, we lost a member of the medical fraternity. A doctor was found dead in a hotel room in Port Dickson. The outpouring of grief was overwhelming, from social media websites to private messaging groups. Everyone who knew him had only good things to say about him; bright, hardworking, well-liked. Everyone who didn’t felt the loss equally. We all mourned for him.
This letter is not about the circumstances of his death. It is, however, about our responsibility as part of a fraternity to take care of our own. As doctors, we accept the work is hard, never-ending and thankless. From the beginning as house officers, we are pushed to the limit, to build resiliency and to place duty above ourselves. This continues far into our careers and somehow, we are just expected to find a way to manage it.
But not everybody responds to the stress the same. We often come across doctors suffering from burnout, anxiety and depression. Given the type of work we do, the increasing demands needed as a doctor and the stress from daily life, are we really surprised that it takes a toll on us? No, we aren’t. Yet, one of our first reactions to a colleague struggling is that he or she is ‘weak’, ‘needs to toughen up’, or ‘shouldn’t bring personal problems to work’.
As part of the fraternity, we are equally responsible for the stress, pressure and stigma doctors face from the work. This is something we need to acknowledge and then start to fix. No doctor should ever feel so helpless and overwhelmed until there is no place to turn to, regardless what the problem he or she is facing, personal or professional. We are all in the same boat and it is our duty to look out for each other as much as taking care of our patients. We preach to our patients to take better care of themselves but we do not heed our own advice or tell our colleagues to do the same.
Thus, I implore all of my fellow colleagues to be a little kinder, to try to understand that not all doctors are built the same and each of us has our own personal battles. Most importantly, we need to extend a helping hand to those who need it. As peers, supporting each other forms a camaraderie that will greatly help manage the stress. As superiors, your experience is invaluable for young doctors to learn from. It is time we break the cycle, create a healthier working environment amid all the stress and do away with the stigma of doctors with coping issues. We can only do this if we take responsibility and start now. Because if we do not take care of our own, who will?
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.