Israeli Resident Doctors Protest Return to 26-hour Shifts After Coronavirus Respite

Resident physicians refuse to go back to pre-pandemic work schedules: 'We recovered our sanity, our health, we were more alert and gave better medical care'

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A woman protesting 26-hour work shifts in a protest of resident physicians in Tel Aviv, May 9, 2020.
A woman protesting 26-hour work shifts in a protest of resident physicians in Tel Aviv, May 9, 2020. Credit: Rami Shllush

Some 1,500 resident physicians held a protest rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday against the decision to restore their work schedule to 26-hour shifts, after they had worked 12-hour shifts at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing white lab coats, protesters carried signs saying that they were not slaves of the system and that fatigue leads to medical errors. They demanded a pilot program that would shorten their shifts by establishing more hospital jobs and turning temporary positions added during the coronavirus emergency into permanent ones. They also called on the government to find solutions for the children of medical staff working long hours.

Shai Ram, a gynecology resident at Ichilov Hospital, said that there is no other sector in the job market that works such long hours on a regular basis. “It hurts us, damages our health and negatively impacts our patients,” he said.

Ram noted that Israel is lagging behind while the rest of the world progresses toward shorter work shifts. “In Israel, interns work 78 hours a week. In OECD countries they work for 48 hours a week.”

Prof. Asher Lehiani, former head of Meir Hospital, said that overworked doctors are paying a heft price in their mental health and personal life.”We are human. We chose to become doctors, we didn’t choose to destroy our families, relationships, children and friendships. We chose to become doctors, we didn’t choose to destroy ourselves and our mental health.”

The residents’ organization Mirsham reported on behalf of demonstrators that for years resident physicians had assumed that there was no alternative to the long work hours. “We accepted the fact that we drove home exhausted after a shift. The fear of getting in a road accident was an inseparable part of our life. For years we accepted the fact that our shifts did not include a warm meal. We faced thousands of acts of violence against us, and accepted that we must work 300 hours a month, for years, to complete our residency program.”

“Over the last two months, as part of the coronavirus crisis, we worked sane shifts lasting 12 hours, and we’re not willing to go back. In these shifts we recovered our sanity, our health, we were more alert and gave better medical care, as we had intended to when we first chose this profession.”

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