Mental health of health professionals: the alter ego

Vytenis___Andriukaitis

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Member of the EC in charge of Health and Food Safety in Moscow where he attends a WHO event and high level meetings. © European Union , 2017 / Photo: Vasily Maximov.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Silvia Matilda Aștefanei, a 5th-year medical student from Bucharest, Romania. Ms Aștefanei is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

“I have a dream”. And this is the beginning of the end.

It happens usually that you give up your dream for someone else’s, but in this case, you give up your life for someone else’s. However heroically it may be, this should sound the alarm both in health-care professionals and in patients.

You wake up one day and there it is, your bright future, your dream come true: you are going to be a doctor. You will live a life of professional fulfillment, act like the sarcastic Dr. House or be down-to-earth and charming like Dr. Derek Shepherd. You find yourself in the perfect photos from the Internet representing people stu(dying) and, surprisingly, smiling, surrounded by books similar to Game of Thrones (a lot of pages and complex action, but for many of us, less interesting). But…BEEP BEEP…oh what’s that? The merciless reality strikes again. Quit the fairytale and face the truth!

Studies show that doctors are most prone to be affected by a mental illness. And it’s understandable: having somebody else’s life in your hands is not the easiest game, it’s like playing Jumanji in real life, every decision you take leads to some effects around you. Physicians are in a vicious circle of more or less cruel patients, professional development, burn-out, huge amounts of workload, exhausting shifts, stress. No wonder that depression and exertion bushwhack. In this profession, you really have to please everyone, starting from the annoying boss that gives you extra shifts and ending with a know-it-all hater that diagnoses himself with stage-IV cancer based on the information found on an obscure website and he threatens you when you just prescribe him some Paracetamol for the common cold.

In a lot of countries, doctors also deal with a lot of administrative work, thus bureaucracy slowing down the scientific course. I don’t really know if the family is a relief or another pain since it usually becomes ignored and just another task on your to-do list. When caught in this bubble of chaos, physicians consider their existence being meaningless, they lose self-confidence, become depersonalized and isolate themselves. Adding the fear of being stigmatized, they start to have suicidal thoughts. The savior becomes the one who needs to be saved. Unfortunately, as history proved during the years, awareness increases when someone dies. What kind of sick society is this, where death triggers a change?

Patients have to have in mind that health professionals aren’t Phoenix and for sure they aren’t machines that can work 24/7 and be switched on and off over and over again. Doctors, on the other hand, have to realize that they activate the Butterfly effect from the first step they take on this long path. If you are ready to sign up for this challenging journey, make your best not to back down and hang in there. As Hannibal Lecter said: “All good things to those who wait”.

About the author

Silvia is a 5th-year medical student from Bucharest, Romania. She got involved in extracurricular activities since she started high school (She was even an editor at its magazine). Silvia is an enthusiastic volunteer in her LMO and NMO. She recently became a trainer and medical education trainer in IFMSA and is passionate about teaching others. She has a lot of energy and joy and always has an idea of what to do next. She is interested in somnology and  can focus better when listening to psychedelic rock music.

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