Review the houseman system to stop abuse
Published on: Sunday, May 08, 2022
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I READ with utter sadness the news about the death of the houseman in Penang.  

While it is wise to wait until investigations into this tragic incident are completed, many individuals have taken the opportunity to bring up the supposedly brutal working conditions of housemen and resident doctors.

Residency and housemanship of doctors are practices that we inherited from the West. It is a rite of passage which is sometimes a turbulent and difficult phase for young doctors as they set out to build their career. 

Some do enjoy their housemanship, but many others have reported that they mainly endured episodes of bullying and being humiliated by senior doctors. Some have even said that housemanship dehumanised them.

Having written my doctoral dissertation on burnout among resident doctors for my PhD in social and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, I know that even the most passionate of housemen cannot protect themselves from toxic work culture.

While multiple factors contribute to their burnout, depression and suicidal ideation, it is the fact that senior doctors expect them to just “suck it up” that is the most pertinent. 

The toxic belief that “if we could survive it, you should too” has prevented serious introspection by medical leaders on their work culture, which has been found to even affect the quality of care provided to patients and also contribute to medical errors.

Medicine is an extremely hierarchical field, and housemen are often at the bottom of this ladder. The tendency of some to bark and yell at junior staff, inhumane managers, the insurmountable workload, and desire for external validation all contribute in one way or another to make the workplace toxic.

We need to seriously consider whether we should continue with this practice to train our young doctors. 

Since we inherited the system from our British administrators, isn’t it time for us to transform the system for the better?

Dr Mohd Nasir Mohd Ismail


- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Dr Mohd Nasir Mohd Ismail and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]


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