My own private epiphany

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 43, No. 3, April 2001, Page 118 Editorials

About 6 months ago I was just finishing up 12 days without a break. It was 5:30 Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to 2 days of needed rest. My reverie was suddenly shattered when my receptionist reminded me that, during a moment of weakness about 4 weeks earlier, I had agreed to work Saturday.

I hauled my complaining body and somewhat less than sharp brain back to the office the next day only to come across a patient with a bleeding ectopic pregnancy that required emergency admission. A few hours later I was informed by the gynecologist that the patient was stable for the moment, so the surgery would be the next morning. He asked if I could assist at the surgery as the patient was frightened and he had assured her I would be there. Looking into my crystal ball and seeing another 6 days without a break, I had a sudden revelation: I’m killing myself!

I spent the remaining hours of that day thinking about the high cost of living in BC, the onerous tax load, and the rapidly crumbling system of health delivery, and I started formulating a survival plan.

The next day I started looking for a long-term locum. After a short search, I found someone not only interested, but ready to talk time and dollars. This came as a surprise to me because I thought the hunt would be fruitless. The interested party and I came to a fairly quick agreement and as of 1 January 2001 I started a sabbatical for 6 to 12 months. During this time I’m planning to do a fair amount of aviation medicine, some security-sensitive medical stuff, and some writing, and I’m going to look after my brain and body properly for a change.

Whether I’ll be ready to return to the rigors of regular clinical practice after 6 to 12 months is unimportant at this point. I feel great right now and that is really all that matters. However, looking back 6 months in time and comparing how I feel now to how I felt then, I shudder to think how many of my colleagues are currently working day in and day out, burdened with that degree of mental and physical exhaustion.

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: If our politicians don’t start treating doctors and nurses like the valuable resources they are, they will find the manpower barrel empty and nearly impossible to fill again. It is my firm belief that a large percentage of the health-care workers presently working in BC will eventually have their own personal epiphany and many will naturally opt to go where their life will be the most reasonable. Gray docs will likely retire or move into salaried jobs outside of clinical practice, while younger more mobile medical professionals will always have the option to answer the siren’s call from south of the 49th or move laterally to Alberta (22% salary increase, no PST, lowest personal income taxes in Canada, and 39% maximum marginal tax rate).

So if anyone is listening in Victoria, you had better start singing your own song and it had better be sweet.


James A. Wilson, MD. My own private epiphany. BCMJ, Vol. 43, No. 3, April, 2001, Page(s) 118 - Editorials.

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