Pre-internship health checks – a great idea

One of the great research projects presented at the Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference 2022, was the concept of a Physical and Mental Health Assessment for Trainee Doctors.

Mr Shaun Prentice BPsychSc (Hons) Assoc MAPS + Ms Kiara Cannizzaro (program manager, Doctors’ Health SA) discussed their findings after implementing a novel health assessment for interns.

They assessed trainees physically and mentally at the start, middle and end of the clinical year.

Mr Prentice and Ms Cannizzaro also reviewed the prevalence of harmful working practices in pre-intern year and mid-intern year and found that:

  • 50% did unpaid work and admin
  • 75% worked when tired and/or sick
  • 58% worked unsafe hours
  • 75% had excessive clinical demands
  • Close to 90% took no rest breaks and/or no lunch

“Healthy interns walk into the unknown and are impacted by harmful work practices.”

Mr Shaun Prentice BPsychSc (Hons) Assoc MAPS
Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Key findings

The act of the assessment in the beginning of the year improved the trainees perception of their own health and wellbeing. These doctors felt more compelled to care for their own health after these initial reviews.

  • Participation and enthusiasm was high
  • The health check before starting internship benefited the participants long term
  • Having your own GP is essential for your health
  • These checks are useful in identifying wellbeing gaps

What now?

It’s known that medical training is gruelling. There’s still a high prevalence of harmful work practices combined with a job that’s mentally, emotionally and technically challenging.

Instead of viewing trainee doctors that struggle as the minority that “lacked resilience”, it’s evident that we need to view every doctor as a resourceful whole being that walks into a tough work environment.

Not finding things easy is normal and widespread, everyone is affected.

Instead of helping doctors once they’re in need, why not start before that?

Like all good public health campaigns, let’s get to the primordial prevention not the tertiary.

Let’s create an environment that is nurturing, supportive and rich with resources to help guide trainee doctors through these years with steep learning curves. Having a pre-internship health check is a perfect example of this.

Ensuring doctors start their roles with a full cup and are educated on what to do when things get tricky (because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when).

It also shows that the system genuinely values doctors’ health, and that as an individual, we can and should care too.

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