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Burnout: a burning issue
  1. Bernard M. Y. Cheung
  1. Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
  1. Correspondence to Professor Bernard M. Y. Cheung, Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, University Department of Medicine, Hong Kong, Hong Kong; mycheung{at}

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The frequent answer to the question ‘Why do you want to study medicine’ at the medical school interview is ‘I want to save lives’. A scientist colleague used to greet me with the line ‘How many lives have you saved today?’ The truth is that while we can easily kill a patient if we are not careful, rarely can we intervene to turn the tide and save a life. As a clinical pharmacologist with an interest in medication errors, I know that a careful and alert doctor is better for the patient than a caring but tired doctor. Older doctors may recall with some fondness and pride that they used to be on call every other night and still came through. In the UK and European Union at least, it is now recognised that doctors, like airline pilots, must not overwork. Why, then, is burnout a growing problem in the medical profession?

Can it be that we are not recruiting people with the ‘right stuff’ into the profession? In most countries, getting into medical school is extremely competitive. Only secondary school students with the highest grades and scores will …

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  • Contributors The author wrote the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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