Being on call as a medical doctor means that being on standby, ready to work on anything that needs your attention immediately. In this article, five Nigerian female doctors talk about the things they hate about being on call.
What I hate most about being on call is being on call. I work in a big hospital and we get a lot of patients every day. During the day, I struggle with the pressure that comes with a full hospital of sick people needing urgent care and my anxiety as I try to work through it. I can be performing surgery on one person while another person is crashing in that moment. On most days, I come in earlier than 8 AM and leave later than 5 PM. It takes a lot from me. Sometimes, I cry to release the tension.
I hate that patients often expect doctors to just know what’s going on with them and have an immediate solution. They don’t care what happens to the doctors or how they feel. On a good day, I only get four hours of sleep. Sometimes, I don’t even have enough time to shower before starting work in the morning. I miss out on a lot — events, intimate time with loved ones, friends and family milestones. What keeps me going is thinking about my bed or spending time with my friends and family. Sometimes, I wish my patients would spend a day in my shoes, maybe then, they will be nicer to their doctors.
Being on call almost always means you will be working through the night. There are more emergencies to attend to at night and more referrals to be made. I hate when patients have to be referred to a different hospital at night so being able to help anxious patients without referrals is one of my biggest joys when I am on call.
I don’t mind being on call at night because I have gotten used to it. I work in a private hospital so the workload is less than it is during the day but that changes anytime. During call at night, there are fewer people at work so the atmosphere is relaxed and commuting is easier and faster.
During my internship a few years ago at a tertiary hospital, I was scared of walking alone at night because there were many reports of people who got robbed or assaulted. I would run from my room to the wards or the emergency rooms but I feel safer now. Aside from that fear, I am always happy for the little things like a newborn and a happy mother. The truth is during call, you never know what you will get.
During calls, I sleep less. I spend most of my time on call on my feet, which means back pain is my friend. On some days, the work can be endless and I don’t get a break until the following morning. Sometimes, I end up going home during the weekend because of an overload of work. On other days, it can be calm. That’s when you will see doctors smiling. Having to deal with too many things at the same time strains the mind. Sometimes it’s so bad that I am already unhappy thinking about the next shift while I am on one.
During calls, food is the last thing on my mind and this is what makes doctors collapse on the job. The crazy thing is that you can be on call for a whole week, dragging your grumpy self around, stealing short periods of sleep in uncomfortable call rooms with mosquitoes or rats. Some days, there might be no water to even freshen up.
Another thing that frustrates me during calls is working with nurses that do not like to do their work. They will call my attention to every little thing, even when it’s something within their job description. Regardless of all this, I love what I do even though the hardship in the Nigerian hospitals is so unnecessary.
I hate the fact that calls deprive me of rest because emergencies could come in at any time and I have to be on my toes. Calls are almost always tedious and unpredictable. However, when you work at night in some departments, you get the next day off. Personally, I prefer working at the obstetrics and gynaecology department because most of the cases are usually similar and that takes the edge for me.