Doctors quitting over workload, pay issues

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Cabinet ministers describe wage offer as generous

Jerome Kennedy — File photo

Dr. Julia Trahey, an internal medicine specialist in St. John’s and clinical chief of quality assurance with Eastern Health, told reporters Friday about her own personal fear of making a medical error because of a heavy workload and job stress.

“Trust me, I don’t dream a lot, but I’ve been having this, probably anxiety dream, because I feel there’s too much coming at me,” Trahey said.

She described dreaming about being at a tribunal, where someone is asking, “‘Dr. Trahey, did you know it was too much? Did you understand that there was a possibility of making a mistake because of the demands that are being placed on you? Did you think that you could miss this?’ And the answers to those questions,” she said, “was, ‘Yeah, it’s getting to be too much.’”

Trahey is one of 13 medical specialists in the province who tendered their resignations Friday, effective Feb. 4, 2011, because of a two-tiered salary system for specialists, which they say is causing recruitment problems and contributing to heavy workloads and unacceptable patient wait times.

At a news conference Friday, Trahey said many of her patients are sad about her decision, but she believes she’s doing what’s best for them, rather than stay in a situation where she might miss something while “just trying to tread water.”

Dr. Bridget Fernandez, a medical geneticist with Eastern Health, and Dr. Sandra Luscombe, a developmental pediatrician and child protection physician with the Janeway children’s hospital, also spoke publicly about their decisions.

Twelve of the 13 specialists are resigning from Eastern Health and one from Western Health.

Fernandez said there are now 60 cancer specialists and laboratory medicine specialists who are paid higher than 120 other salaried specialists in the province, as a result of increases given pathologists and oncologists in 2008 following the Cameron Inquiry into breast cancer testing errors.

“We’re doing equal work and we feel we should have an equal wage,” Fernandez said, while also pointing out that the doctors resigning also believe no one category of patients should be more important than another.

“One of our largest concerns is the ongoing care of our patients,” Luscombe said. Over the next three months, the resigning specialists plan to meet with their patients to discuss their future care.

All three specialists said they initially thought government would address the workplace issues in the current round of contract talks with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA), but that hasn’t happened.

Trahey said the decision to resign hasn’t been easy and, for some specialists, it will come at great personal cost.

Luscombe said some have already been entertaining offers in other provinces, but there are some specialists who may need time to decide whether they’ll even stay in their medical specialty.

“Trust me, I don’t dream a lot, but I’ve been having this, probably anxiety dream, because I feel there’s too much coming at me. Dr. Julia Trahey, an internal medicine specialist in St. John’s and clinical chief of quality assurance with Eastern Health

The latest government offer provides wages at 98 per cent of Atlantic parity, but Luscombe said that’s still not internal parity with the specialists who were already given raises.

Fernandez said those specialists are paid about 50 per cent higher than the specialists in her group.

Health Minister Jerome Kennedy and Finance Minister Tom Marshall reacted Friday by telling reporters the specialists who are resigning were offered a 31 per cent increase in their annual salaries, currently at $204,000-plus.

“Essentially we are looking at physicians who will receive a raise of $50,000 to $60,000 over four years,” Kennedy said, noting that they would receive a lot of this money upfront.

Kennedy said the 13 specialists are in a group of 212 salaried specialists and at least six of them, who also teach or are associated with Memorial University, would receive additional funds there.

The minister said family physicians will also receive a 26 per cent pay increase in the contract offer, which doctors around the province will be voting on this month.

Marshall said pathologists and oncologists who were already given raises in 2008 will receive maintenance increases of two per cent per year.

“There is a gap,” Marshall acknowledged, but he said, “We’ve gone a heck of a long way to reduce the gap and over time I’m sure the gap could be eliminated.”

Marshall called government’s offer a generous one, worth an additional $81 million to the 1,075 physicians in the province. It represents an overall 25 per cent increase in the physician services base budget, bringing the total annual compensation package for doctors to about $410 million.

The ministers appear to have no intention of trying to reverse the resignations. Kennedy said government will instruct the health authorities to commence the recruitment process immediately to find replacements.

Acting Opposition leader Kelvin Parsons said it’s disappointing that these doctors have to resort to resigning, a move that will also be “devastating” for their patients. He said he can’t understand why government doesn’t agree to binding arbitration to resolve the outstanding issues.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is calling for a complete external review of the province’s health-care system in response to what she says are “startling mass resignations.”

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association

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Recent comments

  • mary
    November 07, 2010 - 18:22

    Someone noted that it was not a coincidence so many Drs. submitted their resignations on the one day and that this is just a bargaining ploy. I tend to agree. This was a planned move and it will backfire. Didn't one of those specialists who got the previous hefty wage increase end up resigning anyway. Demand a increase, threaten to leave, get a wonderful big bonus salary increase for screwing up and, then, leave anyway. We aren't talking a couple of hundred bucks here. No, it is a lot more than that. It is a dam game to these people and the citizens of NL are being played. I agree with the gov't on this one. My experiences with a couple of drs over the past year, including a specialist, has left me disgusted. Incompetence and arrogance. The Drs. do not have my support.

    November 07, 2010 - 16:48

    Bonnie you really should understand the facts before writing. A Specialist's work load depends on the Speciality. How many times does a Pathologist get out of bed at 3.0. am compared with an Obstetrician or Internist. The money is to attract more people so that the workload can be spread out, not to line the pockets of existing Physicians.

  • K.D
    November 06, 2010 - 20:38

    Hey you guys what happened to the code you swore by on the day you graduated it seems these days everything is for sale a once proud profession is taken over by greed, to hell with the patients and the few of us who pay through the nose to help the sick recover while doctors and specialsts whine and groan, everyone knows the workload is heavy that`s the nature of sickness it knows no bounds

    • Unbelievable
      November 08, 2010 - 13:03

      It really is too much. What has the world become. A once respected position has fallen so low in my eyes over the years...and this is a whole new low. I have watched mistake after mistake by "Specialists" over the years and at the end of the day realize they are only human. But to realize what matters most is the bottom dollar is really disturbing. Do not be fooled folks. It is not about the work load, not about equity, not about patient care or recruitment and retention. It is because the doctors are upset and disappointed that one group of salaried specialists are making more than they are. It never seizes to amaze me really. The people we are forced to trust are thinking about their millions and how they are not earning a couple of extra bucks like their friends while we are on the operating tables. Do you trust your mechanic with your vehicle like you trust a doctor with your life or loved ones life. Think about that the next time it matters I would definitely recommend people to educate themselves before seeing any doctor these days. It has become a position of upper status and not a window to help those in need of help. Shame on you doctors!!

  • Gerry
    November 06, 2010 - 11:29

    Without knowing the annual salaries paid to the resigning physician specialists (or their earnings for the past one or two years) how can one make any objective comment on this subject. Are the salaries or earnings public information? Where can I view, so I (and many others) can make rational comment.

  • stann
    November 06, 2010 - 10:47

    It is clear that the Bully (AKA Danny) has just sent out Jerome, the clone, to throw stones at the medical specialists who want fair treatment from this goverment. Where in the h... do the Bully and the clone expect to find replacements in 3 months when there is a shortage across this country. Nflders are the losers with these bully tactics once again.

    November 06, 2010 - 09:32


  • Steve
    November 06, 2010 - 09:09

    If anyone does not want to believe that this is nothing more than a bargaining ploy by the union you are sadly mistaken. We are to believe that by some fluke of nature that not 1, 2 or 3 but 13 Doctors decide to resign on the same day. Come on give us all a break we are not all that gullible. Yes there have been mistakes made by both sides in these negotiations but the attitude by some of the Doctors that they are going to take all of their marbles and run home just doesn't cut it with me. Unfortunately the provincial government is partially to blame, they should have realized that once they gave a significant raise to one group of Doctors that would be certainly held over their heads with the remaining groups of Doctors. Let them resign, give across the board raises and hire new Doctors, please DO NOT rehire the Doctors that resigned!

  • Dave
    November 06, 2010 - 08:32

    Get with it jerome, these 13 doctors are quitting because they are intelligent and intelligent people know enough that they don't have to take being kicked in the teeth by the likes of you. You're letting 13 highly trained specialists quit and you think you're gonna replace them as easy as that. For all the people who are thinking hard on this one jerome, they'd rather see you leave than one of those doctors. You better get this mess straightened out before election time.