A young Sydney surgeon has exposed the horrific conditions she endured at a Sydney hospital that forced her to quit her job despite fears of being “black-listed” from the profession.
Dr Yumiko Kadota was forced to work over 100 hours of overtime in a single month. The long hours meant she often slept in hospital beds.
As her health deteriorated, Dr Kadota said her pleas for better conditions were ignored by hospital administration.
“The summary would be it was four months of hell,” Dr Kadota said last night on the ABC’s 7.30 of her time in the busy Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
Dr Kadota wrote a post on her blog mind body miko titled “The ugly side of becoming a surgeon”, where she outlined the poor conditions including 20-hour days, physical abuse and being kept on call for “180 continuous hours”. The post has since gone viral.
She described a “dream disintegration” moment back in 2013 when a neurosurgeon reprimanded a registrar.
“He stomped on her foot and broke it,” she wrote.
“The lesson I’ve learned is that you have to put your health first,” she said last night.
Of her time as a registrar, Dr Kadota said her working conditions only ramped up the pressure. She told of a week with a 20-hour day where she was left to reattach the fingers of a chef after calling her head of department for help that never came.
Her skills were rewarded with increasing praise but also more responsibility. She details how her health deteriorated throughout the blog post.
Dr Kadota said she hoped to “raise awareness about doctors’ health, work-life balance, safe working hours and the toxic surgical environment that still exists in Australia”.
“From the first week (at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital) I was working extremely long hours, and there was one particular week that stands out to me now, which is a week where I had a 12-hour day on the Monday and then 20 hours on the Tuesday and 16 hours on the Wednesday,” Dr Kadota said.
In her first month at the hospital she says she worked more than 100 hours of overtime. Suffering from a combination of stress, poor nutrition and sleep deprivation, Dr Kadota began to suffer from stomach problems. She decided to approach hospital administration about her roster but nothing changed.
Dr Kadota said she “constantly” got the impression she should be able to keep going.
“There was even an instant when I was told that doing these kind of hard hours would be good for me … implying that it might toughen me up,” she said.
Dr Kadota said the final straw for her came when she was kept on call for 24 days straight.
“I just physically couldn’t keep going,” she said.
“I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired, and I was worried constantly that I would crash my car or make a mistake at work, and I just knew that it wasn’t safe to keep going,” she said.
Exhausted from being on call for 180 continuous hours in February last year, and forced to work in the ear nose and throat department, a surgical department she had no experience in, Dr Kadota resigned in June.
“For her to speak up or to say that she wasn’t coping would directly mean that was going to affect her ability to get a reference and potentially a job the following year or to get on to the training program,” said Dr Melissa Yang, co-founder of Doc to Doc, a support network focused on preventing doctors’ deaths. Doc to Doc was set up in 2017 after a number of doctors took their own lives.
“It really demonstrates the severity of her situation, for her to actually call it and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore’.
“If someone quits, there’s always someone there to take their place.
“For the senior doctors, or the heads of department, there’s not really that concern about protecting these trainees. I think on the mildest end it lends itself to selection bias, and I think in more severe cases, such as Yumiko’s case, it lends itself to frank exploitation.”
When quizzed about Dr Kadota’s experience, Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital management were apologetic but couldn’t explain why Dr Kadota had been through such a difficult experience.
“I can only apologise to the doctor for the experience that she had here at the hospital. I am very disappointed that that’s what her experience was here at the hospital,” said Peter Rophail, Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital manager.
“It was very disappointing to read about her experience here at the hospital. And we’re very determined to ensure that we look after our junior medical officers.”
Dr Kadota decided on becoming a reconstructive and plastic surgeon when she was still at school.
She studied for six years before signing up to do a year-long internship. She then completed a two-year residency, then a year-long internship.
It was after this she began her first year as an unaccredited registrar plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital. She began in February 2018.
She is not sure if she will return to her original choice of surgery.
“If there is a way that I can ignite my fire again, I would absolutely love to be a surgeon again,” she said..
“But right now I’m not sure whether my body could go through it again.”