Sleep-deprived doctors are dying in car crashes at an alarming rate around the world. And beginning July 1, 2017 the US will now force new doctors to work up to 28-hour shifts. So the death toll is likely to rise.Thousands of lives have already been sacrificed including not only doctors, but hospitalized patients, and innocent people on the roads. Today I share the lives of six doctors and a passenger we lost to physician fatigue.
Lauren Connelly, M.D., of Scotland.
Just 7 weeks into her medical career at a Scottish hospital, Lauren died in a car crash after working a grueling night shift and100-hour work weeks. She was just days from her 24th birthday. Hospitals in Scotland (and around the world) expect doctors to work long shifts with no breaks and many have shut down their hospital sleeping quarters so doctors have no place to rest even at the end of a shift. Doctors-in-training are forced to work inhumane hours that would be unacceptable in any other profession. A colleague stated, “If Lauren had gone into law, architecture or accountancy – anything but medicine – she would still be alive today. That’s the truth of it.”
Ronak Patel, M.D., of the United Kingdom.
An anesthesiologist in training, Ronnie Patel tried to keep himself awake by singing to his wife on a hands-free phone after a long shift at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in Suffolk. He never made it home. He crashed just 3 miles from his house and was declared dead at the scene after crossing the median in a head-on collision with a large truck. Medical professionals have the worst road accident rates, more than double the rate of other British workers.
Naveed Farooki, M.D., of the United States.
Sheila Farooki shares, “My uncle was an ENT surgeon and was driving home after call. He crashed his Mitsubishi Montero into a house and it rolled over and he was instantly killed on Father’s Day 2002.”
Ilene Markwat, M.D., of South Africa.
After working more than 24 hours in the obstetrics unit of Paarl Hospital, Dr. Markwat, a first-year doctor, died in a car crash on her way home. She veered into oncoming traffic and killed a passenger in another car. The surviving passenger who lost his bride-to-be (Carol Mostert) stated, “I am a long-distance truck driver, if you are tired, you sleep. She was supposed to have slept when she felt tired. If she was not working those long hours, that accident would not have happened. Doctors are there to help us, not kill us.” Many doctors work an average 300 hours per month.
Jessica S. Lin, M.D., of the United States.
An accomplished violinist and fifth-year neurosurgery resident from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Jessica died in a fatigue-related car crash. Her dear friend from medical school writes, “She drove over a median into a tractor trailer after a 30+ hour shift. She left behind her family, including a twin sister and her fiance. She was 30.”
Sobby Mathew, M.D., of the United States.
A physician friend writes, “During my third year of family medicine residency, an intern died exactly the same way—she fell asleep at the wheel on the interstate and drove across the median into a semi. She was so full of life and happy. Such a cheerful, compassionate, and loving woman. We found out when she didn’t show up for work on her next call shift that morning.” Her life is now celebrated with The Sobby Mathew MD Award presented to an intern who is hard-working, open-minded, supportive, and selfless; and who demonstrates compassion and a caring attitude for patients.
All of these beautiful and compassionate people should still be with us today. This is a tribute to my brothers and sisters in medicine and those innocent lives lost in hospitals and on the roadways due to our fatigued physicians forced to work inhumane hours in hospitals that routinely violate their human rights to rest, eat, and sleep.
So what’s being done to address sleep deprivation among doctors? This week the ACGME (the governing body that controls post-graduate medical education in the USA) has actually voted to extend the work hours on first-year doctors from 16 to 28-hour shifts with up to 80 hours per week now permitted. Let the ACGME and Dr. Thomas Nasca know how you feel about their decision to allow doctors to work 28 hours without sleep. Submit your letter to the ACGME at 401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60611 and email Dr. Nasca: firstname.lastname@example.org (and please also post on the blog)
There’s no organization tracking the thousands of deaths among doctors due to unsafe working conditions. Have you lost a loved one as a result of physician fatigue? Please add your story in the comment section below.
Pamela Wible, M.D., reports on human rights violations in medicine. She is author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. View her TEDMED talk Why doctors kill themselves. Need help? Contact Dr. Wible.