An Intern’s Prayer retroflash by
(89 Stories)

Prompted By Sleepy Time

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Now I lay me down to sleep;

I have spent years of my life trying to come to terms with on-call sleep deprivation.

I pray my beeper will not beep.

If I awake from slumber deep,

I pray I can get back to sleep.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Marian says:

    I don’t know how doctors do it, Khati. The sleep deprivation greatly influenced my decision not to go the med school route. I am amazed by how you MDs survive.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Probably a wise decision, Marian—not everyone has the same tolerance for schedule disruption. I don’t have as much as I’d like and have had to devise my adaptations. The demands do vary by specialty (eg dermatology vs obstetrics!) and practice locations, and continue to evolve, though generally the training years are the worst. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do important work in the medical field that don’t require sleep deprivation. Unfortunately it is still an issue needing improvement.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I don’t know how an intern does it, or why the medical community thinks this a decent way to train a young doctor. Sleep deprivation is no joke.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Couldn’t agree more—sleep deprivation has all sorts of I’ll effects, and is actually used as a torture method. Different people have different tolerances and I learned that lo and behold, I get cranky if I don’t eat or sleep. Mostly I managed to develop schedules in my work life that built in time to recover and still be able to help cover the 24 hours as part of a group. There has been some progress in the profession but not enough.

  3. I’ve heard about medical interns and their oft -interrupted sleep times Khati, that’s for the ditty!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, it is kind of legendary. I started to delve into the subject and all the mind tricks that go on, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, strategies for self care, adaptations over the years etc, but it seemed too dreary, so ditty it is.

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    Which shows that intern-ing and resident-ing are best left to the young, Khati, would you agree? Excellent!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, the physical stamina demand is mostly better borne by the young—a good reason to have kids when you are young as well. Shift work anywhere is hard, but physicians have struggled to come up good systems to cover twenty four hours, particularly during training.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember my husband describing that when he was on call. Very hard to sleep when you are expecting to be woken up to deal with an emergency. Sleep deprivation for interns and residents used to lead to poor judgment and mistakes. I think/hope things are not as brutal these days.

  6. Suzy says:

    Short and to the point! Thanks for reminding us that any sleep deprivation we may be feeling is not nearly as bad as what interns go through!

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Of course, I love that this clever little ditty is based on the same poem that I paraphrase in my RetroFlash.

    And I certainly know from my doctor friends and relatives about the life of an intern, at least sleep-wise. It is indeed ironic — and not in a good way — that health care professionals embrace a practice for training their own that is so unhealthy, both for the sleep-deprived intern and the patients he/she will be treating.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, I think three of us ended up referencing that little poem/prayer—great minds and all that. You are so right about this being just one example of how the health professions foster poor health in their own ranks. There is increasing attention being brought to wellness issues. It is definitely hard to be healthy when you are pushing too hard all the time.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    Having extreme fatigue deliberately built into a system has always seemed insane to me. Truck drivers or commercial pilots would lose their licenses for attempting a schedule like that of a surgeon or most RNs.

    I suspect that it derives from one of the most common work dynamics; employers extracting the maximum amount of work from employees for the least pay. I have several friends and relatives in the medical arena, and uniformly, their corporate masters treat them like annoyances rather than valuable, highly trained assets.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      So true about the pilots and truck drivers, a comparison not lost on other shift workers. The overwork and terrible schedules is certainly worse where those affected have little voice, and organizing efforts have been strong in some of those areas. The case of physicians has its own complicated history, probably too much to go into here, and remains a challenge.

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