Give (mental) health to the young health workforce

doctors woman

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Lorena Vela, a second year medical student from Ecuador and is currently the National Assisstant for Public Health in AEMPPI-Ecuador. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. 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.


On December 2018, the popular Facebook page “Humans of New York” revealed the testimony of a graduated medical student in a post that currently has more than 200 000 reactions. “I got into medicine because I really wanted to make a difference […] but after going through hell, I just don’t care anymore” are the final words of this new physician. In a world that is continuously facing political, economic and health crises (all portrayed by the Coronavirus crisis), the biggest challenge the new generations of healthcare providers need to face is untouchable. Mental health is the main topic hospitals and health facilities, as so governments and authorities, have to consider when establishing work policies, salaries and infrastructures.

 

Young healthcare providers are in the bottom of the “health workforce pyramid”: they have just graduated (or are residents or about to graduate) after several years in medical school, are mostly sleep-deprived and have acquired unhealthy habits as an adaptive measure to the rigorous curriculum they have to follow. Once they begin to practice, they are immersed in an exhausting and demanding environment while being perceived as weak by older colleagues: “I am an asshole, but I’ll make you a better doctor” is what the before mentioned testimony was told at the hospital. These behaviors are not only seen in New York but internationally, as showed in a study on the topic published in 2018: “there is this underlying pressure to be perfect. And there is no way that can be conductive to good mental health…”. When last year health students in all over the world begin to work -usually with an unfair salary-, they are not only required to do much more than what they are physically and mentally capable to, but they are also asked to do so while being mistreated within their community.

 

And as the young healthcare workers begin to struggle with their mental health due to the harsh environment they face at hospitals and other centers, a new generation of torn physicians, nurses and others arise. That happened to pediatric palliative care doctor Adam Hill, who tried to kill himself in the woods. He explains how mental illnesses -he has suffered from depression since college- are considered a weakness within the health community and how they are worsened by the perfection concept under they work.

 

Those who provide health services must be healthy, and this cannot be achieved if work conditions are not friendly regarding mental health. From ensuring fair work-load hours to creating programs that monitor and provide workers safe spaces, the changes and implementation of policies for hospitals are endless. However, to really make a difference regarding this topic, the bullying cycle must come to an end. It is never correct to normalize disrespectful behaviors towards others, and it must be condemned especially in the health area. As this problem is present, the future generations of young health workers are destined to work under indecent conditions.

References

Facebook.com. 2018. Humans Of New York. [online] Available at: <https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/posts/i-just-finished-medical-school-now-im-heading-to-residency-which-is-supposed-to-/2730593037014779/&gt; [Accessed 18 March 2020].

Moir, F., Yielder, J. and Chen, Y., 2018. Depression In Medical Students: Current Insights. [online] Advances in Medical Education and Practice. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5944463/#__ffn_sectitle&gt; [Accessed 18 March 2020].

Rudavsky, S., 2017. After Almost Taking His Own Life, Riley Doctor Focuses On Saving Other Physicians. [online] Indystar.com. Available at: <https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2017/06/25/riley-suicide-doctor-physician-burnout-depression/416674001/&gt; [Accessed 18 March 2020].

About the author

Lorena Vela is a second year medical student from Ecuador and is currently the National Assisstant for Public Health in AEMPPI-Ecuador. Before getting into medical school, she did an antrhopology project in India as a National Geographic scholar after winning a regional essay contest and attended Harvard University Pre College Program. In the future, she wants to keep working in the Public Health commitee at a national and then international level. In the long term, she expects to keep working in this area – especially on climate change, healthy lifestyles and mental health- or in research, particularly on cancer-related matters.

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