WATCH: How Covid-19 has left SA’s junior doctors burnt out and unable to cope
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CAPE TOWN – Junior doctors in SA who have been staffing the front lines for the past 14 months, say the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges they face daily and this has left many health-care professionals burnt out and unable to cope.
Johannesburg-based 28-year-old Dr Anesu Mbizvo believes that number of doctors not being able to cope is more than any doctor knows.
According to international research, around 40% of health-care workers have experienced burnout during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, doctors and support staff.
Public health activist Dr Cyan Brown says younger doctors need to advocate for a health-care system that looks after all health-care workers.
“We cannot safeguard the health of our patients if burnout is normalised and exhaustion is seen as a status symbol. We need to have more honest conversations about this issue and ways we can start creating change. Our generation of doctors has to start advocating for building a more sustainable health-care system that looks after all health-care workers,” said Brown.
Meanwhile, a psychiatrist at the King DinuZulu Psychiatric Hospital and a specialist lecturer, Dr Saeeda Paruk, says burnout has always been highly prevalent in South Africa.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, surveys have reported an even higher rate of 40%. Someone who experiences burnout develops emotional and physical fatigue, negative feelings about their job, feelings of detachment and incompetence,” she said.
For Dr Brendan Savary, the reasons for these challenges sit both at the systemic level and include the long working hours, under-resourced environments and more recently the lack of hospital safety at certain institutions, but also at the micro-level in how health-care workers are often ill-equipped to deal with the trauma and lack of support they face in their workplaces.
These young doctors shared their experiences in a documentary, “A Quiet Implosion: Exploring the untold narratives of junior doctors in SA”, which explores some of the root causes of so many doctors not coping, and looks at how the problem can be addressed.
Health-care workers struggling to cope can contact resources listed below:
- 24 hour Healthcare Workers Care Network Helpline – 0800 21 21 21 (available 7 days a week). SMS 43001. Website
- The dedicated Medical Student Helpline will assist all medical students, interns and young doctors with any mental health issue. This 24-hour service provides free telephonic counselling via a toll-free helpline 365 days a year. Contact 0800 323 323 or visit