A 25-year-old medical school student who was working as an intern at a Greater Tainan hospital was found dead last week after being on shift for 36 straight hours without rest.
Lin Yen-ting (林彥廷), a student at Kaohsiung Medical University, had been interning at National Cheng Kung University Hospital since last June. He left his dormitory for work on the morning of April 25, then worked the nightshift that day and continued working until 8pm the following evening.
Back in his dormitory, he fell down in the bathroom and was rushed to the hospital on the morning of April 27, where he was later pronounced dead.
In the Taiwanese education system, medical students must complete a six-year undergraduate course at university and then spend a final seventh year as hospital interns before graduation.
Seventh-year students have to work the same hours as residents and physicians, meaning they have to work an average of 12 hours a day and cover night shifts every three days, for very little salary.
“My brother was so young and all of a sudden he died. What am I supposed to do with his death?” his sister Lin Yi-shan (林逸姍) said at a press conference on Wednesday organized by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Cheng Ju-fen (鄭汝芬)
Cheng said the medical intern system was in desperate need of reform. Medical students have long been a “gray area,” where the Ministry of Education, the Department of Health and the Council of Labor Affairs have overlapping responsibilities, the lawmaker said.
“It takes a long time to train a good doctor and the loss of an intern means we have lost a potentially good physician,” Cheng said.
Medical students are not eligible for labor insurance, nor do they receive work subsidies when an incident like this happens, the legislator said.
Lin’s family will only receive NT$1 million (US$35,000) compensation from a student insurance policy.
Lai Chi-wan (賴其萬), an official at the education ministry, said that starting in the 2013 academic year, medical students would no longer be required to finish their internship before graduation. The internship will begin after graduation, when they will be better protected by law, Lai said.
Government agencies would work together to map out policies to prevent a similar incident, Lai said, adding: “We have to make something positive from such a tragedy.”