The Overnight Shift In The ER

Check this out. Trigger warning! This piece gets a little long and tedious, but do me a favor and read it to completion. You sort of need to do that to get the full impact of this article. For me, the full impact here is the sheer number and variety of issues that an ER doctor needs to deal with during one overnight shift. Most not really emergencies at all. Just “stuff” that needs a doctor’s attention when no place else with an MD is open. Bloody nose, urinary tract infection, etc. As the author laments, the throughput in an average ER is increasing so rapidly that even new ones are undersized before they are built. The author compares ER’s with popular restaurants. While waiters are frantically turning over tables in the latter, doctors are equally frantic in their efforts to clear stretchers in the ER. Treatment room access is sufficiently strained that “private” exams are often being conducted in hallways.

Bottom Line. Over the past decade, numerous surveys have found ER physicians to have among the highest burnout rate of all of the medical specialties. Funny. As I have been looking at that statistic, I have been thinking about ambulances rushing into ER bays, sirens screaming, unloading  a cargo of heart attacks, gunshot wounds, and other critical cases. No wonder ER doctors are burned out, right?

Wrong! As exemplified by this article, the vast majority of patients going through the ER come in under their own power, NOT by ambulance. So, what is actually burning out the ER doctors is not the Herculean rescue efforts in which they occasionally become involved. Nope. It is slogging through the morass of 16 patients lined up in the waiting room for attention, the vast majority of whom have relatively mundane problems, and many of whom will be seen in the ER again within a few days of discharge, despite the best efforts of the attending physician.  

Yup. That IS what is burning out ER doctors. Understandably so!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *