Message from the President, G. Tang, October 2007
I hope all of you could have a summer holiday break in the midst of the heated debates on equity in salary adjustment, doctor’s working hours, medical incidents, and health care financing. The most recent piece of alarming news is that a substantial percentage of young doctors being interviewed suffered from depressive episodes and some even contemplated suicide. Life for doctors seems to be grim and negative.
'Work-life balance' is a recent phrase coined to indicate the importance of other activities for medical doctors outside patient-care. These activities including rest are considered essential in upholding the physical and mental health of doctors. Their quality of life (QoL) plays a key role in maintaining their practice well-being which in turn shall have immense impact on quality of patient-care and safety.
Whilst the Academy is concerned with the standard of specialist training and medical practice, it is also acutely aware of the importance of the need for 'work-life balance' of young trainees and Fellows. It has supported the Hospital Authority front-line doctors on equity in salary adjustment based on years of experience. It has made suggestions to the Doctors Work Reform amongst which include the need for protected training time, adequate resources for the provision of virtual reality and simulation laboratories for skill-based training, and adequate manpower to cope with the reduction in working hours of each doctor, just to cite a few examples. The Academy wishes to see to it that the Doctors Work Reform in the Hospital Authority will not compromise the quality of specialist training and ultimately the standard of patient-care. It has suggested that a pilot scheme be undertaken before a full-scale overhaul.
Medical incidents and changes in health care delivery are both anxiety provoking and depressing. It is likely that no amount of working hour changes will abolish medical incidents, and no amount of discussion will guarantee a health care delivery that is satisfactory and acceptable to all.
I would like to examine 'work-life balance' from the angle of trainer-trainee relationship. The Academy has established that the trainer-trainee ratio be no more than 1:3. At this moment, except for the College of Family Physicians, this ratio is much less than 1:3 for all other specialties. In other words, trainers who have much more experience not only in specialty knowledge but also in life events are capable of rendering advice to trainees because of the small ratio and hence closer relationship. They can be and should be mentors sharing with and caring for their mentees in many facets of medical life. The effect and power of sharing is tremendous. It can bring about support, comfort, confidence, satisfaction, and more. There will be a sense of protection like parents to children. All these are conducive to 'work-life balance' and mental well-being. While we talk about communication with patients, I believe genuine and tender communication amongst ourselves is equally, if not more, important, for if we are disturbed, how can we offer the best care to our patients? Trainers or mentors are in the pivotal position to improve the QoL of our junior doctors. What about the QoL of trainers or mentors, and Fellows? Peer sharing and support is, in my view, forever important in maintaining our internal stability, and in enhancing the 'work-life balance'. I see that the recent private practice is organised as group practice. I trust that there will be sharing and support within each group.
The medical profession has been a unified and cohesive profession working towards the betterment not only of the profession itself, but also the patient and the community. The medical profession knows how to strike the right balance between self-interest and patients' needs. Do not let ourselves lose direction in these times of change. Let us thrive on striking the right 'work-life balance'.
With best wishes