This was time well spent, judging by the intimate rapport he established with the doctors. They talk to him openly about their dissatisfaction with how the hospital is run, and he is able to unobtrusively capture several tense scenes which illustrate his main thesis: staff energy is being sapped by the bureaucracy.
It also is refreshing to see medical professionals who we normally only encounter as impersonal figures hidden behind surgical masks and scrubs, as multi-faceted people. Anesthesiologist Marie-Christine Beck reveals herself to be a person with both a social activist and philosophical bent. Beck arranged for Pascal Chabot, the author of Global Burnout, to speak to the staff, organises public demonstrations and makes philosophical comments like: “What is a good question? Maybe one that has no answer.”
Many viewers however, may find little in the film particularly surprising. As most of us, at some point, have suffered traumatic experiences in the hands of large institutions, it is fair to assume that monoliths can be frustrating places for its employees. As pointed out in the film, the surgical ward doctors who form the focus of Burning Out, are among 20,000 doctors and about 100,000 workers who are all managed by one single, central Paris hospital administration.
Many may also find it difficult to feel sorry for the doctors who are the film’s main protagonists. They spend a lot of time complaining about the decline in their level of job satisfaction, now that management – in its quest for increased profitability – is constantly rotating staff from one department to the other, “like balls in a pinball machine” as le Maire suggests. The doctors bemoan the good old days when they claim they used to work seamlessly in closely-knit teams where everyone knew one another.
Clearly, there is room for improvement. But, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about and whether their whining is justified – considering the conditions for doctors and patients elsewhere. I am familiar with medical facilities in three other countries – Canada, Israel and Uganda – and the impression that Saint-Louis hospital creates in this film, with its attentive staff and modern facilities, by comparison, is quite favourable. It is also noteworthy that the film fails to mention France’s famous (and leisurely) 35-hour work week and the extent to which this may be the root of some of the malaise.
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