Nov 20, 2013 03:51 PM

Anger and Angst in Hospitals Where Doctors Die

(Beijing) – There was a time when the words of the Hippocratic Oath meant a lot to Dr. Wen Mei. She'll never forget standing proudly with her classmates, each in a sparkling white coat, and reciting the oath in unison on their first day of medical school.

Wen's idealistic school days are long gone. Like many hospital doctors in China, she's had to change her perspective in the face of harsh workplace conditions, including dangers posed by angry patients, overcrowding that some experts say is behind a patient rage phenomenon in China, and puny salaries.

Now, after 15 grueling years of hospital work and a rising sense of insecurity, Wen says she's thinking about quitting medicine for another line of work.

Wen, 34, is an obstetrician at a hospital in Beijing. As she mulls her future, the fates of Dr. Wang Yunjie and other professional victims of patient rage are weighing on her mind.

A disgruntled patient stabbed three doctors including Wang on October 25 at the No. 1 People's Hospital in Wenling, in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Wang, who headed the hospital's ear, nose and throat department, died from his wounds. The patient had been unhappy about a nasal surgery.

Wang was fourth doctor killed in a hospital by angry patients, their relatives or associates since 2009. In addition, more than a dozen doctors, nurses and other medical workers have been attacked on the job in recent years with fists, knives and in at least one case an axe.

Violence and threats of violence have shaken professionals in the nation's hospitals. The Ministry of Health recently said more than 70 percent of all hospitals reported incidents of verbal threats or physical attacks against professional staffers in recent years.

In addition, the ministry said, it's become more common for doctors to be assaulted or facilities damaged by distraught relatives of patients who die in hospitals. Such incidents often begin after mourners erect a memorial for a deceased patient in a ward hallway, which the ministry said has happened at about 60 percent of all hospitals nationwide.

Just before the Wang's death, hospitals were ordered to post one security guard for every 20 beds under new security rules issued by the central government's Ministry of Public Security and the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Some hospitals have started offering staffers classes in self-defense. And doctors at a hospital in the southwestern province of Sichuan were recently taught how to identify and react to patients with psychological problems.

Yet in busy urban hospitals, medical workers may have no time to evaluate the psychological condition of a patient, much less the mindsets of relatives visiting the hospital. Dr. Wen Jianmin, director of orthopedics at Beijing's Wangjing Hospital, said a doctor at a big-city hospital may see 120 patients or perform four surgeries every day.

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