Just the other day, my seven-year-old son piped up: "Mommy I wanna be a doctor when I grow up."
Immediately I thought, "No."
I've thought a lot about the reasons behind my knee-jerk response. After all, I love being a doctor. It's a privilege and it grounds me: the routine of walking from room to room, asking "How can I help you today?", hearing the stories, solving the riddle of disease. The constant drive to learn more about illness and the human body. The intense pressure, the fear, the fatigue, the responsibility. The unparalleled joy of service.
I love being a doctor, but I am burning out. It is demoralizing to watch this health-care system fail those it serves and those who work in it. Meanwhile those with the power to fix Ontario's health care crisis ignore the danger signs.
Last week, I wrote an op-ed about why front-line doctors across Ontario believe the health-care system is broken. I wrote about the reality for patients trapped on waitlists for everything -- from basic care to surgery to nursing homes to palliative care. I wrote about the province's absolute lack of physicians, nurses, home care and hospital beds -- the building blocks of health care. Most of all, I wrote about the desperate need to fix our broken health-care system.
That one article generated a ton of criticism. My motives were questioned; my knowledge, mocked.
The back-and-forth between physicians didn't really bother me. Some reporters have sensationalized it as "in-fighting." I disagree. With a complex topic like health-care reform, physicians will argue and debate and discuss idea after idea after idea. They will seek evidence, reach consensus, find a solution. That is what critical thinkers do. That is what scientists do. Debate is a healthy and necessary process to flesh out best practice.
No, what bothered me was the lack of balanced journalism. I wrote one article about a broken health-care system, and watched as two columns, one article, one op-ed and five letters to the editor were published in the same paper, questioning my character and integrity.
Sure, I want a fair contract as much as anyone out there. But the real conversation I am trying to have goes way beyond income and negotiations. It goes way beyond stop-gap bandaid investments. More than anything, I want this government to get real about managing health care. Media has a key role to play in that.
Like it or not, media informs our perception of reality. Media shapes how and what the public talk about. That influences government priority. And that is why balanced journalism must be protected.
This is what a broken health-care system looks like: patients wait hours to be seen in the emergency department... days lying on hard gurneys, waiting for hospital beds... weeks waiting for basic home care... weeks waiting for a cancer diagnosis... years waiting for necessary surgery... years waiting for a family doctor. Waitlists are simply too long. People get in line with treatable, even curable, medical illnesses; but by the time they get to the head of the line, they find out it's too late.
So I ask my critics: knowing this, do you still say our health-care system is working well? Because in my eyes, the health-care system is broken if people are dying because waitlists for treatment are too long; it's broken if dying patients cannot get the services they need because the waitlist is too long.
Just this week, Dr. Sohail Gandhi pointed out the media silence around what is becoming the quintessential story about Ontario's health care: the closing of a complex-care dementia ward from lack of funding, and the hiring of 84 new health care senior management. Government priorities that fund bureaucracy over care should openly questioned by the media -- and the public.
The day a person falls sick is the day they go from being a taxpayer and a voter to being a patient. That's the day they need the health-care system to work. And the reality they quickly discover is that the system is broken. The day we admit our health-care system is broken is the first day we feel compelled to try and fix it.
This is not just a funding issue. This is a management issue.
Elected governments prioritize where the money goes, but funding for health care comes from taxpayers. Yet these same taxpayers are being trained to accept less and less care in exchange for more and more bureaucracy. This is wrong.
Fixing health care cannot be just about popularity ratings and election cycles. When it comes to health care, our government must act in the best interest of patients -- not voters. We need a paradigm shift.
Like any doctor, I want my patients to get the right care right when they need it. Like any mom, I want my son to have a fulfilling, joyful profession -- especially if he chooses medicine. Like any woman, I want my career to hold equal measures of joy and hard work. For those reasons and more, our broken health-care system must be fixed. Until that happens, I will sing like a canary in a coal-mine.
So, to my respected critics: silence is simply not an option.
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