Long working hours and fatigue are putting the future medical workforce at greater risk of poor mental health and suicide ideation, new research has found.
Doctors in training who work more than 55 hours each week have double the risk of developing mental health problems and suicidal ideation, according to research published in the British Medical Journal’s BMJ Open.
Based on data from the Beyond Blue National Mental Health Survey, the research found that there is clear evidence of a strong association between poor mental health outcomes and working 50 or more hours a week among junior doctors.
“Doctors’ mental health is a complex, multicausal issue shaped by individual, workplace, and organisational level factors, including broader systemic issues such as regulatory practices, meaning hours worked are likely to be only one of a range of workplace factors likely to play a role in junior doctors’ mental health,” the study said.
“However, working hours are a modifiable workplace risk factor that needs to be addressed as one part of multilevel interventions, where individual, team and organisational-level strategies are implemented in tandem.”
The research highlights the ongoing need for governments and authorities to tackle long working hours for doctors in training, said AMA president Tony Bartone.
“A healthy medical profession is vital to patient safety and quality of care, and the sustainability of the medical workforce,” Bartone said.
“Significant evidence already exists to show that doctors are at greater risk of psychological distress and stress-related problems.
“This new research provides clear additional insight into how the workplace can affect the health and wellbeing of the medical profession.
“Long working hours, unpredictable rosters, overtime, being on-call, and night shifts are significant systemic barriers to the maintenance of physical and mental health and wellbeing.
“There is an established link between working more hours and having higher rates of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.
“This should be a wake-up call for hospitals and health services to commit to a review of rostering practices to identify unsafe working hours and develop new evidence-based safe working hours policies and practices.”
Bartone also said public hospitals also need to look at how they can create mentally healthy workplaces.
On top of providing safer working hours, he said reforms must include strategies to address bullying and harassment, support for education and training, better access to leave, and the introduction of initiatives such as a chief wellness officer.