In "Kanja wa Shiranai Isha no Shinjitsu" (The truth about doctors their patients don't know), Kazushige Noda describes his hectic daily life as a doctor.

His mind is never completely at rest because he is constantly worried that something bad might happen to his patients.

Even when he takes time off and goes on an overnight trip, with a colleague standing in for him, Noda says he can't stop thinking about when his phone might ring. At an "onsen" hot spring resort, he even wrapped his phone in plastic and took it into the bathroom.

At the cinema, Noda always takes an aisle seat so he can easily rush out in an emergency. And while he sleeps, he is conditioned to wake up on the first ring of the phone, no matter the hour.

"This state of constant tension can't be good for my health," he notes.

Multiple cases of overworked doctors have come to light, with the Labor Standards Inspection Office naming well-known university hospitals for illegally having medical staff work overtime.

One hospital did not even have any rules about employees taking days off, and another did nothing about overtime work that exceeded the level that could result in "karoshi" (death from overwork).

It certainly makes me nervous to imagine the medical profession undergoing this sort of debilitation.

At a health ministry panel on work style reforms, a participant pointed out the importance of doctors being healthy themselves. Are things so bad that even something as obvious as this needs to be reaffirmed?

Probably the best way to rectify this situation is to start with steps that shouldn't be too difficult to implement, such as assigning more than one primary care physician to each patient, and redefining the tasks that only doctors can handle.

Doctors in Japan are addressed with the honorific "sensei," and the practice of medicine is sometimes extolled as a "healing art."

Perhaps we, the general public, have been guilty of expecting doctors to work themselves ragged to keep us healthy. But they are flesh-and-blood people, after all, who do get exhausted and have moments of weakness.

By the way, overwork is becoming a serious problem for schoolteachers as well, who are also addressed as "sensei."

Surely, this honorific does not exist for expecting such people to perform impossible feats for us.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.