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AMA (WA) | Dr John Zorbas

How WA can keep its doctors

Tuesday December 1, 2020

Dr John Zorbas

You know this means you’ll lose your long service leave.” These were the words from our Director of Medical Services when I and nine other interns had sort of had it with our major WA hospital and left for greener pastures.

I remember thinking it was strange that they were not interested in exit interviews, given that we represented more than 10 per cent of their intern workforce at the time.

That comment and that mindset have stuck with me ever since. My employer thought I cared more about a week of long service leave than whether I had the chance to become a better doctor in my current environment. That always seemed a strange stick to me.

I continued making my way through the ranks. Eventually, the time came to leave Western Australia. I wanted to work somewhere where I’d get a different patient experience; where I’d learn elements of medicine that I couldn’t learn in my current setting. I remember looking at my options and realising that it meant that I’d lose continuity of service with WA.

It was a sad parting moment, because I truly enjoyed my time in WA Health and I always planned to come back. I’d transformed from student to doctor  o trainee, and I had fond memories, as well as a collection of great teachers. Still, the loss of entitlements wasn’t enough to stop the desire for different medicine. I left for Darwin.

Fast forward four years and now things are in reverse.  After a whirlwind of medicine and life experiences in Darwin, I find myself returning to Perth for one last year of training, but with a significant difference.

Darwin provided me with up to two years of continuity. I could leave to develop my  kill set, and know that I would still maintain my leave entitlements, as well as have guaranteed employment to come back to. Crucially, this also included parental leave. I left for Perth leaving part of me in Darwin.

I’ve had an amazing  year back in Perth. I’ve remembered all the things I loved about working and living in Perth. I couldn’t have asked for a better hospital and department to work in. Despite all of this, I won’t be staying. And it ultimately won’t be because of  long service leave, or because I was always destined to leave. The plan was always to come home. From any angle, I should have been easy to hang on to.

When Darwin said they’d keep my seat warm, they weren’t just maintaining leave.  They were making me part of their team. Part of the fabric. Part of Darwin. No marginal increase in salary is ever going to substitute for cultural investment. Darwin has preserved my ability to develop mastery, to enjoy autonomy and to have a sense of purpose. So, despite WA Health investing significantly in my development as a doctor, they won’t be there to collect the dividends.

Entitlement portability isn’t just about the numbers; it’s about making your doctors feel like they are invested in your healthcare system. It’s time the WA Department of Health had a serious conversation with the AMA (WA) about proper entitlement portability.