The nation’s anesthesiologists are often required to take care of five patients at the same time in some hospitals, resulting in long-term overwork and health risks to patients.
Physicians yesterday warned that if that situation persists, medical students would become increasingly unwilling to enter the field, thereby exacerbating the problem.
“In the US, an anesthesiologist looks after an average of two patients during operations. In Taiwan, only a handful of anesthesiologists have such a light workload. In medical centers, one anesthesiologist is usually required to look after three patients, whereas in regional hospitals they could be asked to look after five patients simultaneously,” Taiwan Society of Anesthesiologists president Fan Shou-jen (范守仁) told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.
“What if two of the patients experience a sudden medical crisis at the same time? How do they choose which to help first?” He asked.
With more than 800,000 operations done each year, the ideal number of anesthesiologists is 2,000, Fan said, “but there are only about 1,000 anesthesiologists across the country.”
The shortage means that most anesthesiologists are overworked, he said.
Even worse, the heavy workload means that they constantly face the threat of lawsuits from patients and their families, he said.
Chia Yuan-yi (賈元一), an anesthesiologist from Kaohsiung Veterans’ General Hospital, agreed.
“Have you ever heard of a firefighter being sued because he ran into a burning building to try and save people, but failed to do so?” he asked. “That is the situation anesthesiologists face.”
Changhua Christian Hospital Department of Anesthesiology director Hsieh Yi-che (謝宜哲) warned that if work conditions for anesthesiologists do not improve, the shortage would get even worse.
“Being an anesthesiologist is a very stressful job with a high burnout rate — three of my classmates have died from overwork,” Hsieh said. “For those who survive the job, most retire at the age of 60 because the job is too exhausting.”
Only 50 new anesthesiologists join the profession each year — because of a cap enforced by the Department of Health — a rule that is making the shortage worse, he added.
The situation is even worse than it seems, because the department only allows 23 new graduates from medical schools to become anesthesiologists each year, Hsieh said.
“In a few years it could be commonplace to see one anesthesiologist simultaneously taking care of eight patients,” he said.
Anesthesiologists urged the department to lift the cap, and the Ministry of Justice to decriminalize accidents involving medical operations.
Responding to the pleas, an official representing the department’s Bureau of Medical Affairs, Liu Yu-ching (劉玉菁), said the quotas for medical departments are in place to prevent students flocking to more popular departments and leaving the less popular ones understaffed.
“The quota numbers for this year are lower, because fewer students are graduating from medical schools this year,” she said.