Soon-to-be released film documents SA junior doctor’s plight

By in Art, Culture, Entertainment on August 29, 2016

A new film which documents the crazy hours junior doctors have to work in South Africa – set to be released this September – will give the public a glimpse into the gruelling pressures our more than 5 000 junior doctors have to face every day.

SA-born Francois Wahl, a chartered accountant with a passion for filmmaking, directed and produced the much anticipated film, called “Doc-U-Mentally – last doctors standing”, which he believes is an apt title since, “junior doctors must be insane to work under the conditions they do,” he says.

“I was inspired to tell the story after experiencing almost first-hand what these young doctors go through. My father, wife, brother and many of my friends are in the healthcare profession and let me tell you, the effects of sleep deprivation and the hostile environment they have to work in have damaging repercussions – and it’s this that I wanted to bring home to the viewer.

“The film shows five different doctors from vastly diverse backgrounds, during five different calls, with very little director’s influence from my side as I wanted to produce an unadulterated film, showing things the way they truly are. The main focus was to show the race against time for these doctors and how working 30 hour shifts impacts their mood, performance, stress and anxiety levels and personal safety,” says Wahl.

The movie, which is set mainly at Ngwelezane Hospital in Empangeni (KwaZulu-Natal), is not for the faint-hearted and shows real-life scenes of stab-wounds, gashes that must be sown up, near drownings, and everything in between that junior doctors need to deal with during a regular shift.

It features Dr Saishrien Rasen in the surgery unit, Dr Yenziwe Ngema in orthopaedics, Dr Wanele Ganya in paediatrics, Dr Amy Salvesen in emergency medicines and Dr Lourens Wahl in casualty.

Their participation in the film was motivated by both a professional and personal responsibility in order to lead the change in especially working hours, but to also shed light on the psychology behind the plight of junior doctors, and to bring to the fore other issues that too need to be addressed, such as the shortage of medical personnel and the HIV dangers they face.

The documentary also drew the interest of Pharma Dynamics, one of SA’s leading generic pharmaceutical firms, who along with the support from the SA Medical Association (SAMA), KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission and funds raised by fellow doctors via a crowdfunding campaign, made the documentary a reality.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says junior doctors are the hard-working backbone and future of SA’s healthcare system and more should be done to ensure safer working conditions.

“With each passing year, junior doctors are given more responsibility. Working long and anti-social hours causes physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, which often puts doctors (and their patients) in perilous situations.  One can understand the anger and frustration felt by many junior doctors at this time and hopefully the film will encourage other legislatures to follow in the footsteps of Western Cape, Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo’s recent decision to reduce the working hours of healthcare professionals in the province from 30 hour shifts to 24 hour calls,” she says.

Doc-U-Mentally will be screened at both the upcoming Jozi- and UGU Film Festivals (KZN) on the 17th and 18th of September.

Show times are as follows:

Jozi Film Festival:

  • Eyethu Lifestyle Centre, Soweto – Saturday, 17 September at 2pm
  • Rosebank Cinema Nouveau – Sunday, 18 September at 12pm

UGU Film Festival:

  • Desroches Hotel – Saturday, 17 September at 2.30pm

The 82-minute film has also been entered into several international film festivals, including the Public Health Film Festival in the UK and the Denver Film Festival in the USA.

For a sneak preview, go to https://vimeo.com/180480648 to watch the trailer.