SINGAPORE: There’s never a quiet moment for doctors at the emergency medicine department of the National University Hospital (NUH), who must be prepared for just about anything - from patients with severe rashes, to someone who’s fallen off a building.
And sometimes, said senior resident Dr Lin Jingping: “There might be a mass casualty incident where you suddenly get 5, 10 patients coming through from a bad accident.
“We come to work not knowing what to expect. Every single day is different. There is no fixed routine for how our work schedule would be.”
The ability to remain calm amid the chaos is essential to the unpredictable nature of work in the emergency room - as the programme On The Red Dot discovered when it tailed her on one eight-hour shift, for the series Work in Progress about various careers. (Watch it here on Toggle.)
And doctors often have to play the role of sleuths too, said Dr Lin, who has been with NUH for eight years. Many times when patients end up at the emergency department, they are unable to share with the doctors the history behind their injuries or condition.
“So we need to get the information from the family or the ambulance crew. We have to be like a detective, to piece the little information that we have together and try to find out what the problem with the patient is,” she said.
WATCH: The ups and downs of the job (1:54)
Dr Lin’s first posting at NUH after graduation was in the emergency department. For a newbie, “I was initially quite intimidated by the myriad of the patients that come through the door. You have no idea what to expect when you come in to work every day”.
“But I grew to like it during my posting,” she added. While she was moved on to postings in other departments, she said: “I realised that I missed the hustle, the bustle, the excitement of meeting new people every day.”
And so she decided to specialise in emergency medicine.
BREAKING THE BAD NEWS
But while ED doctors are well-equipped and trained to handle a wide variety of medical conditions, they also need good communication skills.
They attend courses on how to break bad news to patients and their family, and they are taught to use simple words and not medical jargon, said Dr Lin.
“Communicating bad news is something that we do on a daily basis,” she said. “Every single time we do it, it’s difficult. We need to know how to do it in a professional way.”
Once, a young pregnant lady collapsed at home, but when the ambulance crew arrived at the hospital, she no longer had a heartbeat. “We (the doctors) went together as a team to break the bad news to the family, who understandably were very upset. But these are the things we have to deal with,” she said.
Death is an unfortunate constant in the emergency room, and that drives Dr Lin even harder to make that critical difference to her patients.
“In our daily lives as an emergency doctor, we see patients die every day. We are humbled that we are privy to their last moments. It makes us strive to be a better doctor, a better physician to every single patient that walks through the door,” she said.
On The Red Dot’s series, Work In Progress, explores various careers. Catch it on Fridays, 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5, or watch it on Toggle.