Young doctor overwhelmed by worldwide response to blog about hospital hours that ‘broke’ her
A trainee doctor has been overwhelmed by the response she received after going public with her story about “four months of hell” working at a Sydney hospital.
Yumiko Kadota, 31, posted a blog explaining why she resigned from the job she had hoped would be the gateway to her dream career.
“The response was so much bigger than I expected, so I am really grateful for that,” Dr Kadota told 7.30.
“I’ve had hundreds of messages from around Australia and around the world, mainly from doctors and their partners. A lot of people are saying that they are going through a similar experience.
“It was special. They told me I’m brave and thanked me for sharing my story.
“I really do think the system needs to change so that it’s a more nurturing workplace for junior doctors, and it’s really important that doctors need to look after themselves and also each other.”
The blog has prompted calls from medical organisations for an independent audit of the hours worked by junior doctors.
‘I physically couldn’t keep going’
Last February Dr Kadota started work as an unaccredited registrar at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital in Sydney’s western suburbs.
She hoped it would lead to being accepted into an accredited training program to become a reconstructive surgeon.
“I knew I wanted to do something mechanical, so surgery was always appealing from that point of view, and I do feel that plastic and reconstructive surgeries are the most creative of all the specialties,” she said.
She knew it would be hard work, but was stunned by the long hours and high pressure from day one. In her first month, she did 100 hours of overtime.
“There is one particular week that stands out to me now where I had a 12-hour day on the Monday, a 20-hour day on the Tuesday and 16 hours on Wednesday,” she said.
Australasian College of Surgeons president John Batten explained that as an unaccredited registrar, Dr Kadota does not come under the protection of the College of Surgeons.
“That is the hospital’s purview — they look after that group [of doctors]. Our influence is the accredited training sphere,” he said.
Yumiko Kadota says she did 100 hours of overtime in her first month. (Supplied: Yumiko Kadota)
Dr Kadota spoke to the hospital’s medical administration about her hours and overtime. She was told that her rostering was not their responsibility.
She told 7.30 she eventually felt physically and mentally broken. She had gained weight and was suffering serious gut issues.
Despite a letter to the hospital in April from her GP, and concern from senior surgeons, nothing changed.
In June last year, after four months at the hospital and 24 days straight of being on call, she resigned, despite knowing what it might mean for her career.
“I just physically couldn’t keep going,” she said.
“I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired and I kept worrying that I was going to crash my car or make a mistake at work, and I just knew it wasn’t safe to keep going.
“I had previously been short-listed for the training program, so I had high hopes of getting on that, and so it was absolutely devastating.
‘My dreams were slipping away from my fingers.”
She wrote in her blog that she “was physically alive, but spiritually broken”.
‘Not an uncommon situation’
Dr Melissa Yang is a co-founder of Doc to Doc, a support network for female doctors set up in 2017 after a number of physicians took their own lives.
“It sounds like [Dr Kadota] was very burnt out by the end of it and very traumatised,” Dr Yang said.
“Unfortunately it’s not an uncommon situation. I think that this is a practice that is going on in hospitals around Australia.
“It speaks to a number of systemic problems in the way we administer our training programs and I think it also speaks to a culture issue.
“In Yumiko’s case, plastic surgery has always been her dream. For her to speak up and to say that she wasn’t coping would directly mean that that was going to affect her ability to get a reference and potentially a job into the following year, or into a training program, so it really demonstrates the severity of the situation.”
Yumiko Kadota is not sure if she will return to work in a public hospital. (Supplied: Yumiko Kadota)
After her resignation, Dr Kadota continued to struggle and eventually spent six weeks in hospital. She was not contacted by the hospital until she recently posted her blog headlined, The Ugly Side of Becoming a Surgeon.
She received an email from the hospital suggesting a meeting.
“I thought it was 10 months too late, and I had already raised my concerns and offered my solutions back then,” Dr Kadota said.
General manager of the Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, Peter Rophail, said the hospital wanted to learn from Dr Kadota’s experience.
“I can only apologise to the doctor for the experience she had here at the hospital,” Mr Rophail said.
“We are working very hard to ensure that going forward, we have processes in place to ensure that our staff wellbeing is maintained.
“Our normal process when someone resigns is to offer them an exit interview so they can explore the reasons they are leaving the hospital, and I will acknowledge that in this case that wasn’t offered to the doctor and my apologies again for that.
“We’d be keen to work with her and … take any lessons that can be learned from this experience to inform what we do.”
Asked whether 100 hours of overtime in a month was unusual, Mr Rophail said: “They did have an unusually high number of patients which fed into that. I don’t think that that amount of overtime is ideal.”
Dr Kadota does not know yet if she will return to what was once her passion.
“Anyone who has had aspirations of becoming a surgeon would always have a place in their heart for it but … I feel like I might still be traumatised from that experience, so I’m not sure whether I could face another public hospital,” she said.
“My dream is still there somewhere and I do hope I can awaken that dream once my body is ready for it.”
Watch this story tonight on 7.30.