Would I do it again?

I am almost sure you have asked yourself before on one or another occasion whether your life would have evolved differently, if you had made different decisions or taken an alternative action at some time in the past? Perhaps those different decisions would have changed not only your own life, but also that of your family, friends, and even your colleagues. Would you have met your significant other? Would you have kids? Would you live and work in Winnipeg, MB?  

A famous Swiss writer, Max Frisch, wrote a play about this (“Biography: A game”). He lets his protagonist go back in time and re-enact certain historic situations in his life. The question is whether the protagonist, with his acquired hindsight, is capable of choosing different actions, and whether those choices will change his biography and impact in any meaningful way. I am not going to disclose Max Frisch’s conclusion here. However, I recently asked myself on several occasions (not all linked to the pandemic) whether, if I could go back almost 50 years, I would go into medicine again.

For my harried contemporaries who just want the punch line: yes, I would do it again, but with the qualifier “under the same circumstances”. Which, of course, begs the question: have circumstances changed?  Well, I think they have changed, dramatically in some ways. But did they change in a way that would affect my decision making?

The science of Bio-Medicine has made tremendous progress and at a pace hardly ever seen in history. At the time of my training, there was no PCR, no expression cloning, no CRISPR/Cas, and cross-sectional imaging was in its infancy. Can you imagine medicine without routine ultrasound, CT and MRI? These and many other technical advances have added tremendously to our understanding of health and disease, revolutionized our diagnostic armamentarium, enabled to sequence the entire human genome, allowed to determine the cause of diseases, and develop cures and highly effective preventative measures within an unheard off short period of time. As a result, we can, for the first time, cure (not only suppress) a chronic viral infection like hepatitis C. With biologics such as anti-TNF antibodies we can maintain chronic inflammatory disease such IBD and RA in long-term remission. With modern immunosuppressives, e.g. calcineurin inhibitors, we can achieve long-term rejection free survival in solid organ transplantation. And with checkpoint inhibitors, we can enable an immunotherapy approach for cancer. Perhaps most stunningly, from their inception it took less than a year to bring RNA based SARS-COVE-2 vaccines to broad application. These innovations not only attest to the tremendous advances of bio-medical science, but will continue to shape the future of medicine and the environment in which we practice.

Apart for developments in biomedicine, there were many other often less exciting and at times ambiguous developments that profoundly changed how we as physicians do business. For the sake of remaining within the space constraints of this blog, I cannot expand on these here in any detail. Suffice it to mention IT based technologies. They allow us rapid access to lab, imaging and biopsy results or even the entire chart of our patients and to document in real time our assessment and management plan. They have on the other hand led to a shift of administrative type work to physicians and risk to distract us from engaging with our patients on a true person-to-person level. Who has not experienced the clinic patient dryly noting that today’s physicians spend more time staring at a computer screen than making eye contact with their patients?

 But these are not really the circumstances I was referring to.

The circumstances that led me to go into medicine were, on their surface, both simple and timeless:  I felt the urge to help mitigate human suffering. I sought to alleviate distress. As a physician caring for my fellow citizens, and as a scholar contributing humbly whatever small piece I could to the progress of Bio-Medicine, which in-turn would help individual patients. The common denominator is service, service to suffering fellow human beings, service to our communities, service to the system we are part of, service to our society. The draw of this difficult, but rewarding profession is not the job security, it is not the almost guaranteed above average, not infrequently very high income we enjoy (I avoid on purpose to say “earn”) as physicians. It is service.

In the context of praising the privilege of serving, I do not want to turn a blind eye on the fact that   providing service is often hard and appreciation may be scarce. The strain of the pandemic exhausted us all, but especially the physicians and nursing staff on the frontlines. Tirelessly picking up extra duties and overtime shifts is one thing. Being insulted by militant COVID deniers and anti-vaccine campaigners demonstrating on the front doors of hospitals, denying entry to staff and patients, and accusing us on social media of being bought by big pharma is disheartening, even if this group of ill-advised individuals is small.

Perhaps a soothing thought in situations like this is to remember one single individual in distress who was comforted, maybe even altered in the trajectory of their entire lives, by us caring and serving its needs.

To serve requires humility. It is not about you or me: it is about the greater good. It is about engagement for a common cause, not for one’s profit. It is about being there when individuals, our community, our society needs us. It is about trying to help making our world a better place. Not with big words, but with what we can do in our daily interactions with others, each of us at their place and in their respective position.

Service is timeless; service will always be a good decision. And that is why I would do it again.

Eberhard L. Renner MD FRCPC FAASLD, Professor and Head – Department of Internal Medicine, Max Rady College of Medicine, University of Manitoba

Defining the New Normal

Dr. Eberhard L. Renner
Eberhard Renner, MD
Professor & Head – Department of Internal Medicine

The non-pharmaceutical interventions put in place to slow down the spread of COVID-19 seem effective. For a while now, newly reported COVID-19 cases in Manitoba remain each day in the low single digits. For once, we are lucky to live in sparsely populated fly-over country. It helped too that our spring break was late with quarantine already in place when people returned.

Because of its success in “flattening the curve”, Manitoba made recently first steps to cautiously relax some of the restrictions put in place two months ago. For some these come too fast and go too far, for others it remains too little too late. The next weeks will tell. That said, traffic has noticeably increased, more people floc to the parks, and walking the dog yesterday evening, I could not oversee a bonfire in a yard with loud music and a dozen of people dancing around the fire pit. Along the same line, I am increasingly asked when the health care system would go “back to normal” and when we would start again doing “business as usual”.

During the past two months, how we practice medicine has changed. Hospital access is controlled. “No Visitor” policies have been put in place. Health care workers are screened when they come to work. COVID-free, -suspect, and -positive inpatient spaces and pathways have been implemented in our institutions. Our clinics have largely converted to “seeing” patients virtually using some means of remote communication.  As antiquated landline phone technology may be, we all have embraced calling our patients. And they love it! They no longer have to drive to clinic. They no longer have to pay parking fees. They no longer have to wait, sometimes for hours, just to listen for five minutes to their doctors explaining lab results. 

Of course, there are patients that still require in person assessment and/or treatment. While we always continued to see the urgent/emergent ones, many of the more elective visits were postponed.  They cannot be postponed forever. We have to balance the risk of spreading COVID-19 with that of not receiving timely care for non-COVID related health issues. Currently, that risk seems higher for the latter in Manitoba. There is a need to opening our clinics cautiously some more again for in person patient assessments. This is pending and will be implemented step-wise and cautiously, analogous to the relaxation of the aforementioned non-pharmaceutical interventions in the province.

However, if “normal” means life before COVID-19, and “doing business as usual” means running clinics how we ran them prior to COVID-19, going “back to normal” and “doing business as usual” won’t happen for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 will be with us for quite a while, even with a vaccine – should it be possible at all to develop one that results in durable, protective immunity. Over the next little while, we have to go forward and define the new normal. Physical distancing measures will have to remain in place. They will likely wax and wane as per Public Health’s advice depending on COVID-19 case numbers. Physical distancing measures will have to continue while providing in- and outpatient services. Physical distancing will continue to limit the number of patients we can see per unit of time in our clinic spaces. To balance this without compromising patient care, we will have to build further on the virtual models we were forced to implement by COVID-19. We will have to improve on our remote technologies for delivering care in all situations that do not critically require in person patient assessment. With this, access to care will improve for our patients, in clinic waiting times should disappear, travel costs will decrease, and, last but not least, patient satisfaction should rise.  Health care is a service industry.  I think this is a time when we can make fundamental changes and really invest in service to our patients – after all, on my lanyard is printed “Patients First.”


Dr. Eberhard L. Renner
Dr. Eberhard L. Renner
Head – Department of Internal Medicine

COVID-19, the pandemic caused by the new Corona virus SARS COV-2, is holding us all firmly in its grip. Canada and, in particular, Manitoba seem only at the very beginning of the SARS COV-2 spread. SARS COV-2 affected first China, jumped then to Europe where it spread catastrophically in Italy, and more recently causes a health care crisis in the US, especially in some large US metropolitan areas.

We are bracing ourselves for the things to come. We are preparing for what we witnessed unfolding in other places around the globe. We were early with introducing social distancing measures, but it is too early to say whether we were early enough.

If not the spread of SARS COV-2, social distancing has slowed down or completely stopped daily life as we know it. Many outside the health care industry have lost or fear losing their jobs. Uncertainty is everywhere, causes angst, and triggers irrational behavior.

In the relentless stream of fast paced news it is difficult to discriminate information from misinformation. Rumors spread and we risk drowning in an ocean of unnecessary E-mails, memos, and bulletins that are already outdated when they are sent off.

How should we deal with this? Neither ignorance nor panic can be the answer. We need to stay calm, prepare rationally for the worst, but hope for the best. We all need to continue to do our work the best we can under the circumstances and continue to strive to deliver the highest quality of care to our patients.

We may see each other less in person and more virtually, but we are all in this together. If we stick (virtually) together, we will come out together (in person).

Some changes of how we do business, forced upon us by COVID-19, such as virtual clinic visits may have already been eye openers for how we can deliver care in a more patient friendly way. There is lots of opportunity to learn and preserve what has proven worthwhile for the time after COVID-19. And that time will come, the question is not whether, only when.  

Patient Centered Care?

Dr. Eberhard Renner
Department Head
Internal Medicine

The lanyard I wear my badge on is imprinted with “Patients First”. “Patient Centered Care” or something the like is on the value statement of almost every health care institution, in Manitoba and elsewhere. It seems a no brainer to unite behind an indisputable value like this. But is there more to it than PR? Do we, individually and as a health care system, really live up to the expectations of our clients in the service industry that health care should be?

I know talking about patients as clients sounds awful to many a physician’s ears, including mine. That said, it can be helpful to occasionally use the word client in lieu of patient.  This is not to distract or eliminate the importance of the patient-physician relationship which remains sacred and pivotal.  It is to remind us that in a service industry, providers are meant to be of service.

As individual providers, most, if not all of us, try hard every day to serve our patients – and some actually go the extra mile and really get there. Kudos! I am not implying that anybody willfully disregards the wishes and expectations of our clients, be it our patients or their families. What I am trying to point out is that our health care system seems to inherently contain multiple systemic obstacles to serve its clients despite claiming this is its primordial goal. The following are just a few illustrative examples; unfortunately, there are many more.

First of all, let me ask you whether you would want to be a patient in your own institution? Be honest. I very much doubt you would want to share a small room, with another, often multiple other, sick strangers, not to speak of a dated bathroom that looks dirty however clean it may be. I doubt you would want to have your history taken, be examined, or hear about unpleasant news brought to you by your care team with only curtains separating you from your fellow patient(s) and their visiting families. And how does the narrow hallway that is usually obstructed with some sort of supply cart and the overcrowded nursing station on our wards affect the care team’s ability to provide “service”? Do our outdated facilities really support “Patient Centered Care”? If this would be a hotel and you would have a choice, as a customer or an employee, would you ever come back? Really?

You may say that these days there is not enough money to build (a) new facility(ies). I am not so sure. Yes, it is correct that we are spending almost 50 cents of the tax dollar on “health care” and it is correct that this is not sustainable. But what are we spending the money for? One thing seems clear to me, whatever we are spending it for is not exactly “Patient Centered”.

How and for what our society spends the available tax dollars for health care is our choice as a collective. If we are honest to ourselves, we can probably all identify many areas where health care dollars are spent without corresponding return of investment for our patients whom our health care system should serve first and foremost. I am convinced that if we are conscious that our health care system is not about us, the providers, but about the clients we serve, about our patients, we will not only be able to identify waste, but also generate the momentum and political will to improve on it and make it better. Maybe one day we will then arrive at a system that truly puts patients first.

Happy Holidays

This is the time of the year we look back and reflect on what we achieved – and what not. Trying to do so in an honest way can be painful. What tangible results remain, if we leave all the fluff off? Just the facts, no wishful interpretations, no stories, no fake news.

I personally believe there are few things that will always stand the test of the fact checker. One of them is having made a patient or family feel better by letting them experience our empathy and being with them not only as factual content expert, but as a trustworthy human being and guide in a difficult situation. We all try this every day. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t, despite trying hard. Not infrequently this is emotionally draining; some of us may have contemplated at times to stop trying or have been tempted to retract to acting purely as technicians. While understandable, I strongly believe that only by trying to do our job as both, human beings and expert professionals, do we serve our patients to the best of our abilities. And that’s why we went into Medical School, isn’t it?

The uncertainties coming with the current changes in our health care system do not help coping with these challenges inherent to our profession either. Manage to Budget, Consolidation, building up Shared Health on the health care side, a new budget model and budget cuts at the university side: all disrupt how we are used to doing business as academic physicians. I know that these ongoing changes are perceived by many as negative, stressful and, at times, demotivating, to say the least. I am not denying that it can be overwhelming, but let me remind you that change is absolutely necessary to bring our business, whether health care delivery or academia, back on track to sustainability.

And let me remind you that changes of the extent we experience currently also create opportunities. Our task is to recognize those opportunities, partner with others and take advantage of them in order to keep our Department afloat. I know that all of you do your best to do so. The Department is you, the Department’s successes is your success. I’d like to express my sincere gratitude and thank you for all you continue to do, every single one of you in his/her place and role, to master these turbulences and propel the Department to the next level of academic and service excellence.

I wish you Happy Holidays, hope you can recuperate for a few days with your family and friends, and tank new energy. I look optimistically forward to tackle together with you the challenges 2020 will undoubtedly bring.

On Limits of Tolerance

Eberhard Renner, MD
Internal Medicine Department Head

Our “postmodern” thinking rests on the notion that everything happening in the world is perceived through the subjective lens of innumerable observers. This means that reality is a collection of myriads of interpretations of an event, neither one of which is per se more correct than another. It is not possible to recognize a single objective truth, i.e. a reality outside a subject’s perception (including that specific to each single one of us). How we perceive and react to what comes our way is influenced by factors that are not integral to what we react to. These include, but are not limited to, the perceiving subject’s personal history, experience and socialization. When we look at a painting, listen to music or read a book, when we interact with others, we are always part of that activity, of that reality; we can never take a standpoint outside of it from where alone an unbiased view and objective judgement would become possible.

While nowadays termed “postmodern”, the above may not be entirely new. Plato’s cave allegory already contains similar thinking, and Kant wrote “… we indeed, rightly consider objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances”.

Be it as it may, the postmodern position has been instrumental in reinforcing tolerance, and with tolerance decency in our dealings with each other, irrespective of diverging individual viewpoints. Thus, postmodern thinking serves as basis of accepting the co-existence of dissenting values and opinions in our multicultural society.

That all said, tolerance is fundamentally different from the loosey-goosey attitude of “anything goes” into which postmodern thinking can be at risk of degenerating. The premise that everything is subjective does not mean that all perceptions and opinions have necessarily the same likelihood of being (morally) justifiable. Tolerance does not negate that there are limits. In fact, tolerance requires that there are limits. If nothing else, tolerance itself must be respected, not only as an abstract construct when it is profitable, but as a lived reality also when it may be unpleasant or even risky. Tolerance – and political correctness for that matter – is not a one way street, but must equally apply to all involved. It cannot go on that one party claims to own tolerance, to know what is politically correct. It cannot go on that one party applies its own perception to everybody else, thereby corrupting tolerance to become nothing else than yet another instrument of power and subduction.

So far so good, you may say, but what has that to do with our Department? Well, I think a lot. Do we not want to be treated in a decent way by our co-workers and do our co-workers not want to be treated decently by us? Expectations of being treated in a decent manner always go both ways, from us to our co-workers and from our co-workers to us. Substitute coworker with other interacting partners in an academic health care team such as patients, families and health care providers, learners and teachers, nursing and physician staff, administrators and front line personnel; all can expect to be treated in a decent manner, and all need to accept that they may have differing viewpoints, and must exercise tolerance to diverging opinions. That tolerance always goes both ways has been aptly recognized 250 years ago by Kant with the imperative “treat others how you wish to be treated”. That reciprocity is the line beyond which tolerance ends. Beyond that line tolerance and political correctness pervert themselves into their contrary and civility claims risk degenerating into a scapegoat for suppressing dissenting viewpoints. We have probably all seen this,  let’s avoid falling into that trap.

Thoughts of a Dinosaur

       Dr. E. Renner

Would I be today the same naïve and inattentive resident assisting in a AAA repair, as I was 35 years ago, I would unlikely be woken by a scalpel flying my way which occurred to me then.  And this is good so – except for the fact that it painfully reminds me that I have become a dinosaur.

As a consultant these days, I have not infrequently difficulties finding the responsible house staff to talk to because he/she is not on the ward for various – and totally legitimate – reasons including being “post-call” or attending one of the (too?) many formal teaching session. When I finally find somebody to talk to, I am calmly told that he/she “just covers” and does not know the patient – and that may not be so good.

I survived the flying scalpel (and other admittedly unpleasant experiences), that would today probably be reported as harassment and physical or at least psychological abuse. I don’t think I have suffered lasting damage, but that’s up to you to judge. In fact, it never occurred to me at the time that I could have been abused. I knew what I was getting into. I wanted to learn something – my choice – and this (and many other unpleasant things) came with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to excuse scalpel throwers, nor do I try to justify or to persuade anybody to accept such behavior. It is unprofessional and disqualifies the actor. However, developing resilience, learning to cope with the many not so pleasant situations we are all faced with in daily life is not the worst thing, is it? And sometimes this may mean just having to swallow what comes our way and stay on – or drawing the consequences and move elsewhere.

I fully recognize also that terms such as abuse and harassment have inherently a large subjective component. As beauty always lies in the eyes of the beholder, the threshold of feeling abused may vary from person to person. That said, these terms are strong and whoever uses them needs to be aware of the consequences they will have. Using them lightly is reverse harassment and reverse abuse. Could the pendulum have swung too far to the self-identified victim side? Could it have become too easy to accuse somebody of harassment or abuse? Should anybody, even a subordinate, really be able to get away with accusing somebody else, even a superior, anonymously and without having to provide any evidence, and should this really lead to a formal investigation – if not more? By doing so, do we not risk to open the door too widely to cheap revenge by denunciation?

I have recently heard many times from role model teachers that they find it harder and harder to give honest and meaningful feedback, not to speak of failing somebody in an exam or rotation, even if this would be warranted, because of the fear they may face disciplinary or even legal actions. Have we gone too far by letting “political correctness” force us on that slippery slope towards mediocrity by dropping the bar lower and lower? Granted, feedback should be constructive. This includes that whoever is deemed to underperform is given a chance to improve. The first step to improvement however is identifying and acknowledging that there is a need for it which often requires being made aware of failure. This is rarely a pleasant experience, but needs to remain possible in order to assure that those who complete our training programs are competent and able to live up to their patients’ legitimate expectation of receiving high quality care.


Eberhard Renner, MD
Internal Medicine Department Head

Nothing that I have ever written has created so much immediate attention and lead to so many rapid responses than my last blog “About Money”. There were 195 hits on the blog during the first day after posting, and over 250 more since. This is five times the attention that previous postings received. A few colleagues responded in the comment section of the blog, many by e-mail, many more on occasional informal encounters in the hallway. The comments varied widely and ranged from astonished disbelief and feeling disadvantaged, over rationalizing and defending incomes and income differences, to offense, anger, and suspicion this may be the first step into an equalizing payment future.   

None of these reactions were specifically intended. I simply wanted to be transparent and stimulate a discussion, nothing more, nothing less – and am glad that I apparently got your attention. That said, let me clarify some things that came up:

Firstly, and maybe most importantly, the latest blog on facts “about money” should not distract from some other equally or even more important facts, namely that you all should be proud of your accomplishments as compassionate clinicians who competently serve your patients, as engaged teachers and educators who train and mentor the next generation of physicians, and as prolific scholars who innovate and move your fields forward. All this in an environment with a lot of moving parts and huge constraints on many fronts including outdated infrastructure and limited support staff. I fully acknowledge that it is your hard work and achievements that make our Department successful. I would like to thank each of you for your individual contributions many of which are not and cannot be properly rewarded by money.

Secondly, our incomes are largely publicly available by individual provider: fee for service income from Manitoba Health’s annual report (latest version available: Annual Report 2016-2017 – Province of Manitobahttps://www.gov.mb.ca/health/ann/docs/1617.pdf), University salary (over $50k per year) from various libraries (https://legislativelibrary.mb.catalogue.libraries.coop/eg/opac/record/107421669; U of M does not post on line), WRHA income (over $50k per year) from WRHA’s “sunshine list” (http://www.wrha.mb.ca/about/compensation/index.php). All of us and every interested fellow citizen can look this data up, for each of us individually, and do the math.  I was therefore surprised that some colleagues reacted by implying that putting aggregate numbers into the public domain was somehow inappropriate. Conversely, the astonished disbelief conveyed to me by others about the income differences existing in our Department also took me by surprise.

Thirdly, beyond stating that we are privileged, my blog only stated facts and asked questions. I believe it is hard to dispute that we are privileged – but I am open to hear the reason(s) if somebody feels differently. If we all feel that our incomes are justified – and my blog did not say they aren’t – there is no need to justify them to ourselves and/or to our colleagues, as some respondents correctly stated. But if the facts are in the public domain accessible to anybody, I would suggest we better have good arguments to justify them towards the public/taxpayer. The arguments I heard with regards to the latter were not convincing enough for me to trust they would hold up in a public debate, but I have been wrong before… 

Fourthly, since our individual incomes are all available in the public domain, I have difficulties understanding, why my blog has angered or offended some of you. With regards to particulars, I want to stress that ”interventionalist” is a generic term characterizing anybody in any subspecialty performing interventions. In general, as you all know, interventions tend to be better remunerated in any subspecialty than non-interventional activities, and my blog explicitly acknowledged that there are credible reasons for this.

Finally, any interpretation of my blog being a first step towards changing existing remuneration models is not only entirely wrong, but totally overestimates the influence and power of a University Department Head and Shared Health Provincial Specialty Lead: As such, rest assured that I am definitely not in a position to change existing remuneration models, even if I would want to.

That all said, let’s not get too much distracted by the always controversial and often divisive discussion about money. Let’s acknowledge that we are all privileged and keep up the good work!

About Money

Eberhard Renner, MD Internal Medicine Department Head

The end of March marks the end of the fiscal year. We all received our income statements. On this occasion, I would like to share with you some aggregate level data on GFT income in the Department and would be very interested in your comments.


• The average total professional income of the roughly 200 GFT physicians working fulltime in our Department during the entire year in 2018 was $582k (median $480k); the variation between individual GFTs was wide, total professional income ranging from $133k to $1.6 million. Not unexpectedly, there are large differences between sections. However, GFT incomes differed by more than 3- (and up to 6- fold) also within several of our sections, despite these faculty members all working full time in the same subspecialty.

• The average total professional income of female GFTs was $501k (median $454k, range $144k-$1.2 million), that of male GFTs $523k (median $611k, range $133k-$1.6 million).

• The Department paid $744k to protect research time for 16 GFT members with a total professional income over $500k. To put these numbers into perspective:

• The annual salary of our UMFA colleagues at U of M ranges at the full professor level from $104k to $156k.

• The average income of Internal Medicine physicians across Canada was $389k in 2015/16, that of all Medical Specialists combined (GIM and its subspecialties) $347k

(CIHI, https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Physicians_in_Canada_2016.pdf).

Comments and questions:

I acknowledge that all of the above aggregate numbers cannot and should not be taken at face value; they are not granular enough to allow a definite interpretation or conclusions – but they make me think:

• Yes, some subspecialties or sub-subspecialties come with the inconvenience and stress of requiring more urgent and after hour work than their (often less invasive/interventional) counterparts. But does this really justify a several fold income difference between subspecialties, even more so between GFT colleagues working full time in the same subspecialty?

• Granted, female physicians may be more prevalent in lower billing subspecialties, at least, in part, explaining the gender difference of incomes. But is this the full explanation, and if it is, why are women ending up more frequently in lower billing subspecialties?

• Sure, some may argue that every researcher’s protected time should be valued equally, regardless of their clinical earnings. But is it really justifiable for the Department to invest its limited salary resources for protecting research time for faculty who earns half a million dollar or more through billings for their (part-time) clinical activities?

• Sure, other professions such a lawyers may make comparable amounts of money, but aren’t our incomes high by national (and international) standards in Medicine? Even more so, if the cost of living (of housing, in particular) in Winnipeg vs. metropolitan areas such as Toronto or Vancouver is taken into account? BTW our GFT expenses are lower than elsewhere, as unlike at UHN/U of T’s Dept. of Medicine for example, there is support for travel of faculty, faculty members do not have to lease their office space from the hospital/university at an every year increasing “fair market price”, pay for their own administrative assistant’s salary, AND pay 25% overhead to the practice plan (which increases to 40% for those billing more than a certain amount).

Collectively, this all seems to me to illustrate how privileged our situation in Manitoba still is. Asking for more $ and for extra, additional re-imbursement for every single task that comes with an academic job such as participating in teaching and collaborating in innovation is, in my opinion, putting this privilege at risk.

Finally, and on a more general note: as academic physicians in the Canadian health care system we are paid by and accountable to the taxpayer. We need to be able to justify our income to this public. Would we really be in a position to do so – and with which argument(s)?

More Food for Thought

Dr. Eberhard Renner
Head – Department of Internal Medicine

Medical training is a somewhat funny hybrid: part studying biomedical sciences, part practical learning through an apprenticeship. The former requires books, lectures, small group session and the like, the latter gaining practical experience by doing things, and being allowed – within reason – to make mistakes. A pianist will not achieve mastery just by studying the notes; knowing the latest facts from reading publications maybe necessary, but is not sufficient to become an expert physician.

It goes without saying, that it is stressful having to play a piano concerto without being confident to get comfortably through the most difficult passages; it is stressful to practice medicine without being confident to apply comfortably one’s knowledge in a difficult situation. And only if there is this technical mastery the pianist can focus on interpretation, the physician on the interaction with the individual patient (and family) in front of him/her.

On the other hand, once one has technically mastered it, playing the same tune over and over again will at some point become boring routine and negatively impact the quality of the pianist’s interpretation. Boring routine after serving in the same role for many years, may similarly impact, at least potentially, the quality of a physician’s interaction with his/her patients, families, trainees, colleagues, and/or other health care professionals. 

Training of pattern recognition and of decision making reflexes requires physician learners to be exposed to a sufficient volume of clinical situations. While what represents a sufficient volume may vary a bit between individuals, the learning curve is a well-established phenomenon, not only in interventional disciplines, and depends on case volume. Simulation may help cutting the required case volume down, but cannot fully replace real life experience and does not readily pertain to all aspects/areas of medicine.

The total duration of our residency training has not changed in decades. However, the exposure time to clinical case volumes has steadily decreased due to introduction of things such as regulations (i.e. shortening) of trainee working hours incl. compensation for on call time, and mandatory formal teaching activities such as academic half days. The implementation of CBD will, at best, not aggravate this further – although the jury is still out.

I am not arguing to turn the wheel back to the times when interns spent every second night in-house on call and worked 48 (or more) straight hours through. I have also no illusion that anybody would want to pay for prolonging training to make up for the lost clinical exposure time.

That said, maybe we should simply accept that after residency training (and even after a fellowship), additional supervised – albeit perhaps more loosely – exposure time is required to gain the experience necessary to comfortably function as an independent consultant or attending who is competent in all aspects of one’s specialty? Maybe we should start discussing models in which the clinical roles of junior and more senior faculty are no longer the same, but rather distinct, the more senior faculty member serving as a clinical mentor for a few junior ones. In such a model, the more senior faculty member would no longer be the primary attending on a ward, but rather serve as resource for and round once or twice weekly with junior attendings on their wards. Maybe this would not only help easing junior faculty into their new position, but also make it more interesting again for the more senior ones, who would take on a new challenge after routine starts to sink in and burn-out lures around the corner? Such models exist elsewhere; their feasibility in our funding model may be worth exploring – some food for thought.