Trainee doctor burnout rates run ‘rampant’ in the ACT

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A REPORT released under freedom of information has revealed almost 80 per cent of junior doctors are suffering burnout in the ACT and almost 70 per cent a suffering emotional exhaustion. 

The report titled “ACT Health BPT Training Program review” also revealed that only 37 per cent of trainees passed their exams last year, compared to a national average of 69.6 per cent. In 2018, the pass rate was lower, with 36 per cent of trainees passing exams, at a time when the national average was 70.6 per cent.

Unclear of what was contributing to these low pass rates, ACT Health, in conjunction with Canberra Hospital and health services and the ACT network director of physician education (NDPE), Dr Ashwin Swaminathan, commissioned an external review.

The review found that high rates (78.9 per cent) of basic physician burnout were recorded, which is well above the average of 51 per cent.

The review also revealed that there is currently an “absence of a formalised structure to support the NDPE. The reviewers have recommended that the organisation consider the appointment of additional staff to provide the NDPE with greater support to deliver the education program with pastoral care requirements”.

Workload was also an issue common across all junior staff groups, with overtime (paid and unpaid) regularly being worked by the Hospital Medical Office (HMO) group, the report said.

Trainees gave evidence during the review revealing that “the sick roster did not appear to be adequately staffed and trainees reported feeling pressured to work even when unwell”.

Staff at Calvary Hospital reported a “clock-in/clock-out system”, with “multiple staff” saying if they clocked in 10 minutes late, their pay was reduced, even if they worked hours of unpaid overtime on the same day.

Multiple trainees also reported having their leave revoked in 2019, even when air tickets had already been purchased.

Other recommendations were made, including:

  • A review of the governance is required with increased resources considered towards increased FTE for teaching and supervisory staff.
  • Strategies to improve the morale within the hospital are required. High rates of burnout in the network need to be addressed. 
  • There is a need for a review of safe working hours with a balance between training and service delivery. 

In a response to the report, shadow health minister Giulia Jones said: “The ACT government has a duty of care in preventing burnout and fatigue among its hospital workforce.

“Burnout and emotional exhaustion are rampant in our hospital. For our trainee doctors, it is making it near impossible to study for and pass their exams.

“For a government that has been in power for almost 20 years, this simply isn’t good enough.”

“CityNews” contacted Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith about the review, and the minister said Canberra Health Services has already implemented several initiatives to improve the Physician Training Program including, ensuring dedicated teaching time for physician trainees, restructuring rosters to provide a better work-life balance and implementing a leave management plan that ensures trainees are able to take the leave they are entitled.

When asked about the high fail rates of trainee doctors over 2018 and 2019, Ms Stephen Smith said: “In the years leading up to the two covered by the review, the pass rate for the RACP physician trainee exams at Canberra Health Services was in line with the national average.

“It is also important to recognise that the basic physician training program comprises fewer than 20 junior doctors, out of almost 600 junior doctors across CHS. Other specialist training programs have continued to experience high pass rates, including emergency medicine, general surgery and pathology.”

As for the reports of burnout, the minister said they’re are committed to supporting physician trainees and working with junior doctors to ensure they are provided with the best possible working environment.

“We are interested in the experience of every trainee, across every specialty of our health system,” she said.

“The review made 54 recommendations in relation to the physician training program and the workplace for physician trainees. Canberra Health Services has accepted all of the recommendations and work is already underway to address issues identified in the review.”

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  1. But it is still more important to spend $billions on replacing rubber wheels on public transport with steel wheels (the tram to Woden).

  2. The ACT medical system is a joke as there is no system, they just go from bad to worse for staff, especially trainee doctors and patients. I am waiting for appointments with five specialists and for three l am now into my third year on waiting lists. When l called to find out why, first question was, in a disbelieving tone, was:”Do you still want an appointment?” They just hope people will give up and eventually pay for private specialists, just keep on silently suffering, move from ACT or die.
    Trainee doctors are so tired one actually dozed off mid sentence when examining family member as he had been working non-stop 36 hours. Another diagnosed one broken bone when patient actually had seven broken bones only found after privately having scans done 3 weeks later and was exceptionally luck not to have life long issues.

    Little wonder trainee doctors are unable to pass exams. It’s an appalling reflection on ACT Health and Government. But Barr wouldn’t be waiting 3 years for treatment.

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