Rodolfo Silva was prepared to handle death – at least he thought he was. During his first year as a pediatric resident at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, he watched a terminally ill 4-year-old die. It was then he realized dealing with death was harder than he had imagined (“New Rules for Resident Physicians Add Hours, but Aim to Prevent Burnout,” 89.3 KPCC, July 5, 2017).
Death is just one of the many challenges young doctors-in-training face throughout their career. “You have to deal with difficult families. You have to deal with you not being as available to your own friends and family or missing out on things that other people who are not in medicine that are your age would be able to do,” said Dr. Silva.
Thankfully, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, an organization that oversees teaching hospitals, has taken notice of these lasting pressures. On July 1, a new set of guidelines was instated, which include 24/7 access to a mental health professional and more flexible hours for first-year residents.
A number of people in varying roles now come into play to facilitate a healthier and more balanced work environment at Loma Linda. Barbara Hernandez, director of physician vitality, strives to address physician stress before it morphs into a more debilitating problem.
“If many of our physicians saw the kinds of things on the street that they see in the protected walls of the hospital,” she said, “they would need treatment for PTSD.”
Due to the nature of their jobs, physicians are spoken about unfairly and thought to have no personal needs – emotional or physical. But doctors must have the space to seek treatment, and feel comfortable doing it, just as anyone should. They’re human beings like anyone else – they get tired, sad and face problems in their social lives.
That’s why it’s so important for all levels of medical personnel and educators to be able to help each other take better care of their health. Introducing Mental Health First Aid into hospitals would mean a greater awareness of mental health and substance use challenges within the medical community. It would mean knowing what to do or say if you notice a colleague living with these challenges. And, ultimately, it would mean that physicians would be able to give their best when caring for their patients.