Work–life imbalance has become "normalised" within Irish hospital medicine, according to a new study which sought the views of almost 1,000 medics.
The research, titled 'Hospital doctors in Ireland and the struggle for work–life balance' and published in the, found many respondents felt burnt-out, with some saying they were in danger of falling asleep at the wheel as they returned home after a long shift while one respondent said: "I cry myself to sleep at least once a week because of the frustration and anger I feel at my job and because of the impact it has on every other aspect of my existence".
Researchers conducted a random sample of hospital doctors in an anonymous online survey, distributed via the national Medical Register.
From its overall response total of 990 doctors, it found that hospital doctors, at all levels of seniority, "were struggling to achieve balance between work and life, with work–life imbalance and work overload being the key issues arising".
It said: "Work–life imbalance has become normalised within Irish hospital medicine."
The survey used free-text answers, meaning respondents could elaborate in their responses. The majority of those who responded were Irish, had slightly more men than women and according to the researchers, "may over-represent public sector hospital doctors". More than half of those surveyed said they had no caring responsibilities.
According to the research: "At all career stages, survey respondents [both male and female] were struggling to achieve a work–life balance. Seventy-three percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I often feel the strain of attempting to balance my responsibilities at home and at work’, and this was slightly higher [78%] for female respondents.
"Respondent hospital doctors struggled to achieve a work–life balance. They felt that long and unpredictable working hours, combined with a high level of work intensity, left them with no time for anything else."
One respondent said: "Routinely work beyond rostered hours … worn out by the end of the working day, no energy or motivation for anything except to eat and go to bed. No real interest in doing anything as time feels better spent recouping before going back to work. Have isolated self from friends/missed family events through work/call commitments."
Another said: "‘I have no life. I’ve lost a lot of friends. It is my work."
The study also found that senior hospital doctors also struggled to achieve balance, indicating that work–life imbalance is not exclusively an early career issue.
One specialist registrar said: "‘I feel tired and burnt out by the time I get home to see my wife and children. I don’t feel that I am being a good father at the moment."
Another said: "It is unsafe to work for 24 hours straight. It’s not safe for patients or for us. I have nearly fallen asleep at the wheel multiple times on the way home post-call."
Many respondents said they loved their work but did not have much optimism that the health system would improve in the near future.
The researchers said: "This survey was conducted in late 2019. The 2019 novel coronavirus [Covid-19] pandemic puts the findings into sharp relief. It is clear that hospital doctors at the Covid-frontline will need decompression time and adequate time off-work to care for themselves and their families, as well as their patients during the weeks and months ahead."