STOP Revive Survive. This slogan is as relevant to those practicing medicine as it is to the motorists. But do you even have an effective “break room” in which to read this article in peace? Probably not. You are not alone.

Unsafe work hours, burnout and fatigue have been the talk of the town in the recent months.

A doctor-in-training commits to spending a significant number of their productive years to gruelling training, countless sleepless nights and scores of examinations. Specialisation is yet another voyage in itself. I am unaware of any other domain of human endeavour that even comes close to such demands.

It doesn’t stop with training. Increasing societal expectations, the ever-increasing medico-legal and regulatory stressors compound what is already a highly demanding profession.

But there is no point in stating the obvious – we cannot change the world in toto. Only à la carte.

A refreshing little change could be designing effective break rooms – whether it be inside hospitals or within GP practices. Please note the word “effective”.

It is a pity that break rooms are considered a perfunctory mundanity. Doctors may come and doctors may go, but the break room rarely changes its composition – a clinic-like white-washed nondescript space with a fridge, sugar, coffee powder, milk cans and the sink, which sometimes serves as the proverbial “Broad Street pump handle”.

Break rooms remain a missed opportunity.

They could be perceived as dead expenditure. But the truth is, for every dollar an organisation spends on the mental wellbeing of its employees, it could receive on average $2.30 back in increased profits, according to an Australian Government Study. This return for investment could be the result of improved performance and reduced absenteeism.

Break rooms, if designed properly, have a great potential to improve mental wellbeing.

The business world is quick to recognise the potential of “effective” breaks and innovative break rooms. Corporate meditation is a buzzword nowadays. Technology companies like Apple and Google supposedly provide a 30-minute guided meditation to their employees. Some companies like Nike have developed nap rooms where employees can take a power nap and refresh themselves. There are even “snooze-friendly policies” for sleeping at work.

A gargantuan multilevel space filled with techno-wizardry is not always required for a peaceful respite that reinvigorates the self. A simple meeting place with comfortable chairs and pleasantly coloured walls for “rostered-off” quietness is all that may be required. This could serve as a place to reset the tympanic membranes from the incessant beeps and dings, for example. Some break rooms include a treadmill, an aromatherapy diffuser, yoga mats, a few massaging chairs, noise-cancelling headphones and even video games.

One size does not fit all. It is important to ask everyone who could potentially use a break room of their opinion before designing one. Interesting quirks could be added, such as a smartwatch-controlled coffee maker, among other cool devices. You will be surprised by the imaginative ideas that you and your colleagues could come up with.

The more we get together in such interesting projects as designing a break room, the more cohesive we could become to our colleagues in practice. As a bonus, we could be providing a better service to our patients, our families and ourselves if we take our mind off the daily stressors, just for a few minutes a day, inside an “effective” break room.

Dr Balaji Bikshandi is a specialist intensive care physician and the clinical lead of the Intensive Care Unit of the North West Regional Hospital, Burnie, Tasmania.


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3 thoughts on “Doctors need a break (room)

  1. Ian Hargreaves says:

    Once upon a time there used to be a doctors’ dining room in the Public hospitals. Doctors of all specialties and ranks would gather for a ‘free’ lunch, at which all sorts of meaningful work would be done. Requests for consultations, and the informal verbal report about “I wrote in the notes it was A, but now I am wondering if it is B”.

    This encouraged collegiality within the profession, and as medical students in the 1970s we would get to join our seniors and be regarded as part of the profession, the next generation to be nurtured, and we would get a free feed.

    It also gave an opportunity for the type of robust defamatory discussion like “the nurses on X ward gave insulin to the wrong patient for the second time this week”, “Yes, X ward is renowned for poor nursing practices. If you want your patients to survive, get them admitted to Z ward, the charge sister there runs a tight ship”. All the sorts of things which now can only be done through a formal HR process, or a report to AHPRA.

    The residents’ common room served a similar purpose, with more comfy chairs and a telly, as well as a bar which was opened on Friday night. Those of us on-call could sink a Swan or 2 (0.9% alcohol) and disparage our seniors for an hour or 2, in a supportive sympathetic environment.

    I work in a couple of places where such sanctums still exist, although the silver service has been replaced by plastic plates and bains-marie, at the Sydney Adventist Hospital, and St John’s in South Hobart. In the Public sector I would have to agree with Andrew Jamieson, that it would never be feasible. In particular, the bean counters would never understand that a few hundred dollars a week in food supplied to rich doctors can generate massive benefits, whether as mental health or in staff retention rates.

  2. Sassy says:

    Actually there are such places for juniors in all public hospitals- it is now the seniors who miss out! The rooms are often pretty nice in my experience, I helped buy furniture etc for one (residents society funds). Effective spaces for senior doctors to meet and relax would be great (Ive never seen one in operation in my time in hospitals). I don’t think this is anything feminist, as a woman I’d love this as well. I really missed being a junior in my time in public as a senior and did feel a lot more isolated from anyone even a little outside my department. At least in private settings you can hang out with the other staff a bit more without such a discipline barrier.

  3. Andrew Jamieson says:

    Long ago there used to be such a thing called the “Surgeons Tea Room” in the operating suite of most hospitals where after a case the surgeon, anaesthetist, registrar, intern and if invited student, could unwind. It was quiet, there were nice sandwiches and in the afternoon cake and sometimes great discussions were held with cross fertilization from the different specialities that were represented. Photos of the former surgical luminaries looked down, mostly benignly! The 1980s rise of feminism, the need of the then burgeoning bureaucracy to control the power of the medical staff and probably some economic rationalism ended the Tea Room which then became much larger, noiser and thoroughly democratic with all and sundry of the theatre floor taking their breaks there. I applaud Dr. B B’s idea of a break room however I cannot see it ever happening. We ‘privileged’ doctors could never be seen to have anything more than the rest of the workforce!

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