Breaking Doctors ?

While the entire medical fraternity is trying to draw the nation’s attention  to the Kolkata incident  I would like to focus closer home. Not because I am not outraged by what happened there but because it would be akin to flogging a dead horse.

So I will skip the incident in SNR Medical College and  recount what happened in my alma mater PGIMS Rohtak instead. A final year post graduate student in Paediatrics department succumbed to the pressure of medical education and committed suicide. The media projected the professor as an unreasonable meanie, stating that among other atrocities, she didn’t grant him leave to attend his sister’s wedding. This was the final straw that broke the  ‘already overburdened’ camel’s back. My intent is neither to fix responsibility nor condone the conditions.  I am just using this opportunity to give an insiders glimpse into the making of a doctor.  So while my colleagues are trying to tell society that it is  difficult being a doctor….. I want to emphasise that becoming one isn’t easy either.

Most people know that it entails cramming thick tomes through the night. But that is a very small part of the training. Overcrowded, understaffed hospitals result in overworked residents who often work thirty six hours shifts. Despite such impossibly gruelling duties only the best is expected from them. Bosses are unforgiving. It is continuously reiterated that since human life is at stake,  mistakes can’t be made. Long duty hours means not getting time to prepare for exams or write thesis. Along with this stress comes the humiliation of never quite making it to the high standards set by teachers. It isn’t surprising then, that suicide crosses the mind of many students. It crossed mine too. I survived because I didn’t have the courage to die…..or perhaps, because,  I had the courage to live.

E719E6EC-1A61-437A-AE3C-60C647C066D5My own boss was a hard task master, never relenting in her quest for perfection. If we ever dared complain about the long hours or the excessive workload, she would say that she was preparing us for society which wouldn’t be any easier. Not getting leave was a recurring theme. My friend couldn’t get leave for her own marriage so scheduled her wedding on one Sunday and reception on the next. I had labour pains induced so that I could deliver in time to use my  week long winter vacations for some postpartum rest. Something as basic and imperative as maternity leave was not available to postgraduate students till recently. It is just one of those things, along with regular meals and a good night’s sleep, that doctors prescribe to others but can’t afford themselves. Once when I was visibly upset over a cancelled trip due to an emergency duty, she sternly said,” Get used to the idea of ruined plans, you have chosen this vocation.” Briefly put, she thought I was a slacker ( mild understatement ) and I felt that she was a sadist! ( mild overstatement) 

Almost a decade after I had left the institute and was in private practice, my boss dropped in one day. Impeccably dressed as always, she said she was passing and thought of checking in on me.  She was disturbed by the vandalism and arson  in the hospital of one of her ex-students. After the death of a patient the relatives had gone on a rampage damaging property. My boss was appalled that neither the administration nor her non medico neighbours and friends had helped her. Looking concerned she told me that I should relocate if I couldn’t count ten people who would rush to my rescue. After some thought she added, “ Take pictures, make videos. Leave the premises but make sure that someone else documents the incident. If ever something like this happens be sure to collect proof. It will help you get justice.”  

It’s a well known fact that only doctors support doctors in such a crisis. Gharaunda, my hometown, had a negligible medical fraternity at that time. I secretly wondered  if she had visited because she found me in a similar, potentially dangerous situation. This rushed lesson on self-survival when the patient dies, was it a part of the ‘continued medical education’ she continuously recommended?

As teachers resign en masse in West Bengal, and doctors all over the country join the strike in an effort to make their work place safer, I wonder what my boss would say had she been alive today. In these difficult times would she discourage us to treat the gravely sick and risk the aftermath of a death? Would she tell us to forgo empathy and sympathy and save ourselves first ? Would she advise us to not try anything heroic, lest we end up a martyr. Probably not. No doctor would like to recommend shunning the core values of this profession. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to save lives at the risk of losing your own.

Two decades later,  her  parting words still resonate in my mind.  A tad remorseful for not having  equipped us to deal with the ‘next of kin’ anger and violence, getting into her car, she had wistfully said, “And I mistakenly thought, I had taught you people everything……… ”

( published in my column in the Tribune on 22/6/19). 


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32 thoughts on “Breaking Doctors ?

  1. Anjali Bansal says:

    Very apt and to the point. Not judgemental just stating facts as they are . And as usual entwined with your personal experience….Marvellously penned down feelings and turmoil of all of us. Well done Dr Manju. Totally unbiased write up reflecting state as they are.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Anjali…although it is my experience…I thought that most doctors would be able to identify with it

  2. Mitra says:

    Love you Manju.
    We are fortunate to be Dr Rathee s students.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Love you too…three…four
      Yes we are fortunate…. I sometimes recall how she would say….when I am done with you… you will be good at everything…whether it is delivering patients….darning socks or making golgappa!

  3. Manju wonderfully written and i suggest let us all put on our profiles ” should we stop admitting Sick old persons ? As many would perhaps not survive ! So to save ourselves is public forcing us not to work for those who we can help survive!

    Beautifully written ! Use your talent! Would share on face book !

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Maninder….I do try to write as often as I can…as much as I can
      The problem is I am a temperamental writer…so I write when I write!

  4. avs ravi says:

    Very well written Dr Manju !!

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks for writing in

  5. Dr. R. M. Arora says:

    Just what everyone from medical profession wanted to express, but didn’t have words to do that….

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks sir…that is a huge compliment

  6. ASHISH JAIN says:

    Aptly described the making and yes; breaking of a Dr in these troubled times wherein each and every ‘QUALIFIED’ Dr is exposed to the turbulent times..
    Dr Ashish Jain

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Loved your observation….breaking of a doctor….took the liberty of using it for my title
      Thanks for writing in

  7. Rohini sehgal says:

    So well written
    Becoming a doctor was difficult but being a doctor is not easy either
    You brought that out beautifully
    With decrease in threshold for sustaining stress and increasing workload, no wonder many children of doctors do not take the profession
    Top of that society distrust and anger as if the illness was created by doctors
    Difficult times for doctors unless we stay together

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Yes part of the problem is our own tendency to run down our colleagues …most kids of my contemporaries have stayed out of this field….those who have joined…plan to go abroad…..
      thanks for writing in….

  8. Archana says:

    Great writing as usual. Reminiscence of the tough journey so far. Annoyance, anger and dis-satisfaction is not limited to the the branches generally associated with high mortality. It happens everywhere, everyday and every hour. Only we have to save us..

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      You are right Archana….it is all across….fueled by unrealistic expectations and misinformation

  9. Shraddha bedi says:

    So beautifully written Mam!! Feeling every word penned by u.. just awesome

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Shraddha…keep reading so that I can keep writing

  10. Dr Sonia Malik says:

    Very well written Manju dear! Do write more on this subject. We need to sensitise people about the travails of our profession, our lives and how many times we too are frustrated at our own inability to treat some of our patients! We have become a nation of mistrust and anger! The country’s affluence has ruined our core values of humility, respect, brotherhood and tolerance. The nation must learn to show empathy towards all, not just doctors.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Dr Sonia…..I have written on this subject before and will continue to do so….you are right….we live in zero tolerance times….the wrath is not just against doctors…it’s against everyone

  11. Dr Suman Bishnoi says:

    Read it in The Tribune with morning tea…
    Was thinking of sharing in the gp but couldn’t do…
    As usual an excellent write up…

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Suman di….I always look forward to your feedback

  12. Dr Priyanka says:

    such a well written article mam ….could recall my residency and each n every word of my sir my teacher too….

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      I am glad you could relate to it…thanks

  13. Dr V.K. Bhatia says:

    Your recent write-up in Tribune is ever best. Appreciate & Compliment the ever improving acumen . Keep on searching the carry home message . You deserve to be honoured, may be at API PANIPAT forum and many more alike. Invite you to present your self in API in near future with your choicest topic. Suggest to compile your all articles till date in an booklet to be read by one n all. Wonder if I have missed your many more publications . Regards

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Dr Bhatia….simultaneously flattered and humbled…the idea of an honour is as honourable as the honour itself….
      I upload all my published and unpublished work on my blog…..Haven’t consigned my musings to paper….So people can read them without sacrificing trees

  14. Sunita Singh says:

    Feelings of medical fraternity penned down so aptly. Well done Manju.

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      I am glad you feel that way….and being a professor you would know….

  15. Anupama says:

    The beauty of the article is that it conveys the sentiments of all doctors in the simplest yet very effective manner.. Truly we learn more than medicine in med school .. and if one cant take pressures there I think he is not fit for pressures of practicing medicine

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Yes….NEET should be replaced by an aptitude test….the ability to withstand pressure….of education….of long hours…of back breaking work with no rest….of performing when the simplest facilities are not available….of seeing death from close quarters….of being exposed to incurable diseases and hoping that your skin surfaces are intact and will keep the deadly virus out…..
      and of dealing with patient’s rage and reporters’ stupidity

  16. Kavita says:

    36 hours duty at a stretch in gynae… be repeated after a night off …..gynae housejob and a newly wed me.,….gives me goosebumps reminiscing those days….
    Was not allowed to wear a chura…..not allowed a leave on my first karwachauth…..and that is when I decided never to opt for gynae as a career….and I am glad to have landed in radiology. …I share the sentiments of all doctors ignited by your beautiful writeup

    1. Manju Gupta says:

      Thanks Kavita…..yes those were the days…..when taking an off meant someone else covering for you….and doing a 52 hrs duty in one go…but we survived….tap ke kundan ho gaye….heh heh
      Life is no easier for doctors in so called ‘ non essential’ fields….society needs to know this

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