Psychiatry resident Dr. David Smith left the hospital around 3:30pm today, after arriving at about 11 am. At press time Dr. Smith could not recall exactly when he pulled into the parking structure, finished his morning coffee while listening to the end of an NPR news piece, and casually strolled into morning rounds, but he was visibly drained today upon wrapping up a late consult from a surgical service that had been called in some time shortly after lunch.
“Usually if we get a late in the day consult like this we’ll see it the next day first thing in the morning around 11 or 12” Dr. Smith said, stopping mid-sentence to yawn widely, “but this was urgent and I really like to maintain a good relationship with the other services, so we agreed to see the patient.”
Dr. Smith is not alone. Due to increased awareness and concern for mental health issues, psychiatrists across the nation report working longer hours and seeing increasingly higher volumes of patients. Data from the NIH indicates psychiatrists are now expected to see as many as 2 or 3 patients in a single day.
“It’s definitely a noticeable change. Just a few years ago I’d be able to use my lunch hours to run a few quick errands or get a workout in, but nowadays I’ve got to try and squeeze that in in the morning- and to do that I’ve got to get up by 9am at least, or take care of it after work, but that means then you don’t get home until 3 or 4 pm. It makes you wonder how long you can keep it up, burning the candle at both ends like that,” Dr Smith said, as he texted a friend to plan some Wednesday morning surfing for the next day.
“I remember during my intern year sometimes I wouldn’t finish my work until maybe 230, but you expect that during intern year, it’s sort of a right of passage to work that hard, but you do that with the expectation that things will get better. Now your days are so packed you really just look forward to the weekends and holidays- but even then sometimes you have to take call. Just last week on a Sunday I got a page about a consult right in the middle of brunch. I had to step outside the cafe for at least 5 or 6 minutes to hear about it and tell the primary team that we would see the patient on Monday. My artisan french toast was noticeably cooler when I got back, and I think my friend stole a sip of my mimosa.”
We attempted to include the perspective of non-psychiatric services on the increased need for mental health consultations, but our interviewee, a senior surgical fellow that hospital administration assured us had enough free time in their schedule for a brief interview, could only softly mutter “just one more year, just one more year” while cowering in the shade of the hospital entrance’s awning, having not seen the blinding light of day in at least 6 weeks.