Medical Interns: "The Worst Part is that People See us as Rich"

Article published on Nov. 21, 2014
Article published on Nov. 21, 2014

Intersyndicat, the national union for medical interns in France, called a strike in November. Why would med students protest? Faced with more working conditions, the interns are literally sick and tired. We spoke to a former intern, who is now a doctor, to get a better idea of what’s happening.

cafébabel: Aren’t you quite tired at the moment?

Simon: Yes, as I have just finished my internship. Two weeks ago, I became a doctor. So now I have more responsibilities. I work in the maternity department and I have to handle some tough issues, like childbirth bleeding. It’s a change of status that is bit stressful and explains why I am so tired.

The promise of a job goes to the person who will suck the most dick.

cafébabel: Have you been sleeping enough?

Simon: No, I was on duty this weekend so I didn’t sleep. But I have my appointments today, so I can relax a bit.

cafébabel: When is your shift?

Simon: I start work at 8 o'clock in the morning and I leave the hospital at 8 o'clock the following day.

cafébabel: Do you have any time to relax?

Simon: No, we just have a 30 minute lunch break around noon.

cafébabel: Can you remember what life was like during your stint as a medical intern?

Simon: It is a doctor-in-training who has the right to practice but doesn’t have their medical degree yet. We are an actual doctors but unpaid. We are hired on 6 months contracts that corresponds to the duration of the internship.

cafébabel: Did you participate in the strike that was held by Intersyndicat?

Simon: No, because I am no longer an intern and I didn’t have any information about it. But I already participated in several strikes while I was an intern for the same reasons. I am keeping an eye on it from a distance but the strike was related to once again with the days off and the training days. These measures are written in the law but are never respected.

cafébabel: Do people generally attend these strikes?

Simon: The ones that I have participated, yes. For the most recent strike, I think that around 5% to 10% of the total number of interns attended it. Anyways, these strikes fizzle out really quickly. Many people worry that [if they participate in the strike] this can cause issues to their future job opportunities or that their bosses can take it the wrong way.

cafébabel: Are you aware that the European Commission has said that France fails to meet fundamental rights as to the working hours of interns?

Simon: Yes. The Commission has fixed working hours to 48 per week. On average we work more, but this depends on the specialisation as well. When I was an intern, my working schedule varied. On average I was working 45 hours but I even worked 90 hours sometimes due to night shifts. We were 30 interns at CHU (University Hospital Centre) at the time, and we were splitting the shifts among four interns. So, the night shifts came around quite often.

Less than minimum wage

cafébabel: What is the salary of an intern?

Simon: At the beginning of the internship, it was around 1400 euros. At the end of the internship, I was earning 2000 euros, or 200-300 euros net with the shifts. If you compare the hourly salary is less than the minumum wage. For a 24 hour shift on Sunday, you earn 200 euros.

cafébabel: Have you ever felt that you couldmake a mistake because you are tired?

Simon: Yes, its clear. I have already done some stupid stuff because of a lack of attention. Once, I left a metal tool in a cathere (device used to distribute or remove fluid from the body, etc), while in general it is something that we remove quickly. But I was so tired that I forgot to remove it. We noticed it a week later. It sucks as it could damage the person’s vein and heart. This only one example among many. In addition, there are other errors that we notice immediately, but there are other errors that could have dramatic repercussions three or four days later.

cafébabel: Are you the only one making mistakes because of a lack of attention?

Simon: No, far from it. Even our bosses tells us: "Don't worry, we all have dead bodies in our closet."

"One day, I will have the body of a pregnant woman on my hands..."

cafébabel: A lot of interns talk about burn-out. Has this happened to you?

Simon: Yes. And it’s funny because we also don't think that it can happen to us, only to others. It’s something latent. You get to a point where you don't give a fuck about people. You just do your own thing, alone.

cafebabel: Have you ever gotten to a point that you just want to leave everything behind?

Simon: Oh yes, often. But, to actually do it... You know, we haven’t been well recognised by the public in general. They consider us as rich. Sometimes, you just have to accept it. Later, the calm period comes that we say, finally, that we have an interesting profession. In my case, I relieve people’s pain. It's quite rewarding and I always try to think about that.

cafébabel: Are interns generally supported by the hospital personnel, the heads of services?

Simon: It depends a lot. There are bosses who are actually great and tend to defend us. And also there are the old school ones who they don’t get why we revolt.

cafébabel: When were you participating in the strikes for interns, what did you expect from the French government?

Simon: Respect. I feel that we are not respected as much as the doctors. An intern, we are the linchpin of the hospital. What is hurting us are the new ultra liberal management methods, which are put in place in the hospitals by guys fresh out of management school. They destroy teams and break the team spirit in the operating block. 

We don't care if we work a lot or do hard work, the job is really interesting. But applying profitability criteria before even knowing if the quality of the care is adequate, drives us crazy. The substance of the profession is disappearing. We eliminate positions without thinking and I think that one day I will have the body of a pregnant woman in my hands because we removed the safety measures. And do you know how they respond to us? That it would cost less to the hospital to be taken to court once per year over a dead pregnant woman than to maintain a hospital laboratory which would permit us have access to biological results faster in order to resuscitate someone after serious bleeding. On top of that, some head os service treat us like shit and  you end up thinking that we are just an adjustement variable.