Questions and concerns of the Sun Country Health Region were addressed on Wednesday night, as the President and Vice President of the Saskatchewan Medical Association made their stop in the Energy City during their annual provincial tour.
"We go to all the health regions in the province and talk to the doctors about we have been working on this year, and what we are planning to do over the next year. Then we also discuss what they'd like to hear from us and what their concerns are," said the Vice President, Dr. Siva Karunakaran.
Among the hot topics was the proposed federal tax changes, health region amalgamation, the provincial contract negotiations and the SMA's strategic plan.
Dr. Karunakaran noted that the first has been an area of grave concern to many members.
"It may change how we practice, and we'd be reorganizing corperations so we can get certain benefits. Among those is the maternity, sick time, and pension plan benefits, which are not provided currently."
"Also, the income splitting, or 'income sprinkling' as the government calls it, is where physicians working in rural areas are able to split their income with their spouses. This has been a good tool for recruitment, so the changes may affect that in the future in rural areas," he observed.
When it comes to the amalgamation of the twelve health regions into one, Dr. Karunakaran stated that the biggest worry is the fear of the unknown.
"The SMA has been in consultation with the government and is giving feedback to the transition team. We have been working on those concerns, but obviously for members in rural areas there are concerns about these cuts, what will happen and what will stay, so we'll be keeping on top of that."
He added that their contract negotiations with the provincial government are progressing slowly. They have seen an increasing number of physicians, and want to see them paid fairly for their work and for the environment to remain competitive to attract more health professionals to the region.
One of the SMA's focuses in their strategic plan, which will be released in January 2018, will be physician health.
"We did a survey earlier this year with our members, and about 60 percent of them expressed concerns about burnout," Karunakaran said, noting that the lack of doctors is among the causes.
"The physician shortage used to be a huge problem, but it has improved in many areas, although we do have shortages such as family doctors in rural areas and certain specialities in urban centers. Generally though, I think it's the workload, it's heavy, and it puts them on edge. The life is stressful with the number of hours we work, whether we have enough people or not."
That said, the SMA is actively recruiting to bring more doctors to the province, with methods that include tours visiting medical students, highlighting the attractiveness of the medical practice in Saskatchewan.