The importance of leave in 2022 | AMA (WA)

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The importance of leave in 2022

Monday February 28, 2022

Dr Jemma Hogan, Co-Chair, AMA (WA) Doctors in Training Committee

As a doctor in training (DiT), leave has become an increasingly scarce resource in a healthcare system at breaking point. Many of my colleagues have weeks, if not months, of leave owing to them, with no ability to take it due to ongoing staff shortages.

Western Australia has been in a unique position for some time, yet due to its isolation we have had ongoing struggles in recruiting staff, especially in rural areas.

Unfortunately, these shortages have been exacerbated by the delay in the WA border reopening on 5 February, as many doctors were waiting until that date to arrive and avoid quarantine.

These doctors will now have to quarantine for 14 days, which may not be feasible for some, who will subsequently decline offers, further worsening shortages.

Over the past two years, medical workforce units have also had to deal with quarantine periods, and unexpected sick leave for every person with viral upper respiratory tract symptoms or fever. As a result, they have become increasingly reluctant to approve annual or professional development leave, over concerns of being left short-staffed.

This has led to increasing leave liabilities across WA Health, and while events such as weddings and exams are often granted priority, even those with flexible dates for taking leave, sometimes just asking for one day off at a time, are routinely being turned away.

DiTs are entitled to four weeks of annual leave and 2-3 weeks of professional development leave a year (as per our industrial agreement) but the inability to access these is contributing significantly to burnout in an increasingly vulnerable population.

I hear stories of people having to arrange multiple shift swaps to get a day off to attend a course they have booked months in advance, have adequate preparation time for an impending college exam, or even just a short break with family or loved ones.

Having to beg and barter for these leave entitlements is making it increasingly difficult for DiTs to continue working in their busy roles, with many considering quitting, or leaving contracts early, to facilitate an adequate amount of time off before they move on to the next demanding role.

As the AMA (WA) Doctors in Training Committee representatives, we will continue working with the Chief Medical Officer to identify WA Health’s plans for addressing leave liabilities among DiTs this year and beyond. We will also continue to advocate for DiTs at both hospital and state levels to facilitate adequate leave and to minimise DiT burnout and attrition in an already stretched workforce.

Leave is a basic but important entitlement that should not be dismissed for its significance to the health and wellbeing of all doctors. If you are experiencing difficulties with leave entitlements, please email our team at dit@amawa.com.au to see how we can help you.