As an OB/GYN physician who took overnight call for 15 years before leaving the practice of medicine, the CNN article about the latest editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, which discusses how sleep-deprived surgeons should consider disclosing their sleepy status, caught my attention. As a doctor hard at work on my current book, BROKEN: One Doctor’s Search For the Lost Heart of Medicine, which details the many fractures in our current health care system, this editorial taps right into one of my sincerest concerns about how broken our health care system truly is.
The Truth Will Terrify You
As a full partner in a busy OB/GYN practice with four other doctors, I was expected to work a full day, take call at the hospital all night, and work all the next day — about every fourth night. One weekend a month, I was expected to start work at 8am Friday morning and finish at 8am Monday morning. Yup. You heard me right. I was making medical decisions — and operating — for 36 hours and sometimes 72 hours straight without a wink of sleep. Sometimes I got lucky and the pager kept quiet for a few hours a night. But on average, I slept between 2-4 interrupted hours on a good night as a full-fledged doc — and none on a bad night.