NEW DELHI: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has decided to open a wellness clinic for its medical students and doctors. It will have a team of psychologists and vocational counsellors who will help the medical professionals deal with stress and emotional exhaustion.
AIIMS sees at least one suicide/attempt every year. Most recently, on Saturday, a 36-year-old PhD student at the institute’s microbiology department had tried to kill himself by overdosing on drugs. He had accused his supervisor of mental harassment, abuse and delay in his fellowship, an issue being investigated. “To address the larger issue of dissatisfaction or stress among students and residents, which drives them to suicide, the institute has decided to open a wellness clinic. In-principle approval has been given for it,” Dr Aarti Vij, chief spokesperson of AIIMS, told TOI.
She added that plan was to have at least two psychologists and a vocational counsellor to begin with and, then, expand the team further. “We will also institute a 24X7 helpline for medical students and doctors. It will be run by the psychologists and counsellors only,” Vij added.
At present, the institute runs a slew of programmes focused mainly on dealing with stress or issues related to integration of freshers into the new set-up. “Many students coming from rural areas have problems coping with the academic burden. Some of them need guidance. Senior residents often face problems due to long working hours and lack of hostel facilities. Some of them live in cramped rooms. These issues must be addressed too,” Dr Vijay Kumar, a senior resident at AIIMS, said.
Dr Nand Kumar, professor of psychiatry at the institute, said he saw 2-3 medical students and doctors every month. “They come for counselling or suggestions. But detailed examination and discussion often reveal sub-clinical depression or burnout,” he said.
Unlike engineers or MBAs, Dr Kumar added, doctors had least social activity and exposure. “Most doctors don’t come out in the open to discuss their problems. Many take to self-medication,” another doctor said.
Encouraging doctors to talk about their problems, improving the work environment and addressing issues like poor doctor-patient ratio and lack of resources could help, said experts.
Experts from Harvard Medical School said the higher incidence of burnout among doctors could be linked to internal traits, such as compulsiveness, guilt, self-denial, and a medical culture that emphasised perfectionism. If a doctor is exhausted or stressed, the risk of patient harm grows. Tait Shanafelt, recently appointed chief physician wellness officer at Standford University School of Medicine in the US, said burnout had been found to contribute to physician errors, higher mortality among patients and less compassionate care.