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Background

Hospital doctors face significant challenges in the current health care environment, working with staff shortages and cutbacks to health care expenditure, alongside increased demand for health care and increased public expectations.

Objective

This article analyses challenges faced by junior hospital doctors, providing insight into the experiences of these frontline staff in delivering health services in recessionary times.

Design

A qualitative methodology was chosen.

Methods

Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 20 doctors from urban Irish hospitals. Interviews were recorded via note taking. Full transcripts were analysed thematically using NVivo software.

Results

Dominant themes included the following: (1) unrealistic workloads: characterized by staff shortages, extended working hours, irregular and frequently interrupted breaks; (2) fatigue and its impact: the quality of care provided to patients while doctors were sleep-deprived was questioned; however, little reflection was given to any impact this may have had on junior doctors own health; (3) undervalued and disillusioned: insufficient training, intensive workloads and a perceived lack of power to influence change resulted in a sense of detachment among junior doctors. They appeared immune to their surroundings.

Conclusion

Respondents ascribed little importance to the impact of current working conditions on their own health. They felt their roles were underappreciated and undervalued by policy makers and hospital management. Respondents were concerned with the lack of time and opportunity for training. This study highlighted several ‘red flags’, which need to be addressed in order to increase retention and sustain a motivated junior medical workforce.

Statement of contribution

What is already known on this subject?

  • Loss of public funding in Ireland has led to large numbers of Irish trained doctors emigrating.

  • Research indicates the likelihood of medical graduates returning depends on improvements to working conditions.

  • Good working conditions are likely to encourage doctor retention yet little research has been conducted in this area.

What does this study add?

  • Intense workplace demands reduce confidence and productivity among doctors.

  • Junior doctors were reluctant to reflect on the impact current working conditions had on their own health.

  • Early warning signs of burnout appear to resonate with many of the issues raised by junior doctors in this study.