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‘They are red-lining the engine’: COVID’s dangerous toll on young doctors

“The research shows that between 50 and 70 per cent of early-career junior doctors are burned out, which is very concerning.

“It is not a disease or an illness, like depression, or anxiety.

“Burnout is a specific work-bound syndrome that is generated by excessive pressures, inadequate resources and support and environmental factors where those doctors are exhausted.”

DHQ offers the only hotline in Australia for doctors manned by doctors and psychiatrists.

Dr Khoo said burnout signs were increased pessimism, a lack of empathy and reduced productivity.

He said “stressed-out doctors” could still perform their jobs but their condition may not be noticeable.

“But they are red-lining the engine, so to speak, and you can not do that for very long.”

COVID-19 is leading to an increase in stress levels, anxiety and burnout in doctors, according Doctors' Health in Queensland.

COVID-19 is leading to an increase in stress levels, anxiety and burnout in doctors, according Doctors’ Health in Queensland.

Dr Khoo said the risk of suicide among doctors was also increasing, an issue identified by the Beyond Blue organisation.

“There is one thing that doctors die from more often than anyone in the general community and that is from suicide,” he said.

“We are less likely to die from cancer or from cardiovascular causes, but we are more likely to die from suicide.

Figures showed the suicide rate for male doctors was 40 per cent higher than the general population, Dr Khoo said.

“But the suicide rate for female doctors is 130 per cent higher than the general population,” he said.

Dr Khoo said a chief fear for doctors at present was they could take the COVID-19 infection home to their families.

“Even if they don’t get a severe version of it themselves, there are often others in their lives who would be much more vulnerable.”

Queensland doctors told DHQ they were treated with respect by their patients during the pandemic, with very few complaining about wearing masks to see doctors, or being seen outside their surgeries in some cases, Dr Khoo said.

“There is always a small percentage of dissenters in any population and there are those occasions where people refuse to wear a mask or allege that it all a false conspiracy,” he said.

Dr Khoo said doctors were more anxious when the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in March.

“Initially, there was a lot of anxiety because we did not know as much then as we do now,” he said.

“In the early days there were conflicting messages at times from different health bodies around the world, from different governments, and it was hard to know exactly what to do.

“There were questions about personal protective equipment supply and also the fear about just how contagious COVID-19 was.

“We know a lot more now because of the substantial research around the world.”

He said health workers were stoic and rarely complained, “but it is a very difficult thing for health workers to put their hands up to having a healthcare issue, let alone a mental healthcare issue”.

The Doctors’ Health in Queensland helpline is 3833 4352.

If you or someone you know needs support, help can be found at Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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