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By Ebere Uzoukwa
On September 3, 2013, resident doctors in Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, Imo State, under the aegis of Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), resumed their hostility with the Dr. Angela Uwakwem-led management. Though healthcare services are optimally not jeopardised, the vacuum created by the absence of the resident doctors is conspicuously felt, so far as the operations of the hospital is concerned. Investigation revealed that the doctors resorted to strike action to agitate some issues relating to welfare and other conditions tied to the residency programme of the hospital.
Non-payment of step-up, irregularities in placement, late payment of August salary and payment of 93 per cent salary for a particular month are among reasons the doctors advanced before embarking on the industrial action. On the residency programme, the doctors disagreed with management on exit period and number of attempts they are expected to pass the post-graduate examination and leave, for others to be engaged.
Worthy to mention is that these resident doctors are temporarily and primarily recruited to be trained as specialists in FMC, Owerri, training centre, even as they render medical services to the hospital within the period. They are paid salaries and specific allowances by the hospital management while undertaking this programme, which has a six-year timeframe to accommodate intensive and comprehensive training to adequately prepare them for both National Postgraduate and West African Post Graduate Colleges examinations. Expectedly, they are to secure a ‘Pass’ in either of the two colleges in a maximum of six attempts. The two post-graduate colleges provide three chances each in six months interval.
In view of these obvious facts, the resident doctors are students expected to pass through rigorous learning process, discipline, mentoring and tutelage of the consultants and hospital management to enable them pass in learning and character. They owe the consultants, whose responsibilities include training them to pass the exam, unexceptional respect and total obedience. In the same manner, they are also expected to subject themselves to authority of the hospital management to be well-guided and professionally undergo the very strict tutelage unconditionally provided in medical training manual to become specialists. The management, on the other hand, is vested with exclusive powers to enforce conditions attached to the programme to extract the best intellectual form of the resident doctors to redefine their career and professionally prepare them for the challenges ahead.
No doubt, the temporary appointment letters of the resident doctors clearly pointed out these conditions which elaborately are encapsulated in the Training Manual. They signed and agreed to abide by these conditions at the point of joining the institution.
It is, therefore, disheartening and amazing that the present resident doctors in FMC have decided to throw caution to the wind and shamefully resort to dancing naked in the market square. The recent activities of these doctors, who basically are trained to save life, are no doubt inflicting another terrible injury on this very sensitive sector in Imo. It appears they have forgotten completely the glaring fact that they are students who at the end of the programme would be strictly adjudged both in learning and character. Most condemnable is that they have placed unionism and politics above their profession and its ethics, which, in medical profession, are known to be sacrosanct. Abysmally, they have defeated the overriding mission of undergoing the residency training at FMC, Owerri, which is to become specialists, by converting themselves overnight as tutors and now dictate to management of the hospital how they would be trained. How could it be explained that a student would, in the course of a study, protest against the syllabus for which he/she is tutored and insist on participating in rewriting such?
The leadership of ARD in FMC Owerri are yet to genuinely unmask their grouse against the management or mission of dramatising such gross disobedience to their trainers. May be, they want to dictate for Federal Government whom to appoint Medical Director in the institution. On the other hand, it could be that they don’t like the perceived ‘strict leadership style’ of Dr. Uwakwem, which significantly has raised the standard of the hospital, as such make their union a tool to rubbish her achievements and further discredit the entire management. This could be reasons for their latest attack on the management because reasons so far advanced for the strike action are utterly baseless.
For instance, the resident doctors are treated on same scale with other doctors and health workers in the institution who equally have unions. Issues of welfare are not peculiar to them alone, but the entire workforce. Staff salaries, including theirs, are paid via a common source and same time. Therefore, agitation over issues that concern the entire hospital staff by resident doctors alone is enough evidence that they have sinister motive which should be thoroughly investigated by the relevant authorities.
The management of FMC Owerri recently declared, which the doctors confirmed, that August salaries were paid to members of the staff on September 4 after the money dropped on September 3. The issue of 93 per cent payment as explained by the management was a common decision taken by the leadership of all the unions, including ARD, owing to the shortfall in revenue that affected subventions to Federal Government institutions. This is even as issues relating to welfare and entitlements regarded as distinctively administrative matters are best resolved internally in every organised institution and establishment. But in the case of these doctors, they only intimated the management of the planned strike action on September 3 and proceeded same day while their salaries reflected the next day; yet, they shortlisted payment of August salaries on the fourth day of the following month (September) as one of the reasons for embarking on strike. For every discerning mind, the resident doctors are only playing to the gallery.
Similarly, it is shameful for someone provided with ‘six attempts’ to pass a professional examination to complain. The argument so far advanced in this regard is amazing and laughable. Six attempts is enough opportunity for any committed person to excel and move further in their career. But those who decide to misplace their priorities while undertaking the programme actually need more than the eight attempts being agitated for to pass. But the implication of staying more than necessary in the institution is that the limited space provided by the hospital will be permanently occupied by these ‘never-want-to-pass’ doctors, thus denying other eligible applicants to get trained. No management that knows its worth will ever encourage such stupidity. The only option available for those that have chosen not to pass is to retire to their homes or possibly seek employment elsewhere to continue with the examination. Whoever that fails to pass after six attempts should leave the stage for others to benefit from the programme.
The management of FMC Owerri is duty-bound to enforce this condition to sustain the standard the hospital has attained in recent time as well as sustain its record in the medical postgraduate colleges.
At this point, the resident doctors should be reminded that as students, they are bound to subject themselves to the stringent conditions that separate medical training from others. The conditions are consciously designed and perfected to discourage guess work; hence they are trained to handle human life. Whoever that cannot cope has the option of migrating to other areas of human endeavour.
The residency programme, according to the manual that guides the training, auspiciously made the programme a ‘jealous lover’. What this means is that resident doctors are expected to totally commit themselves at the expense of their comfort and social life to get adequately trained for them to pass the examination easily. Those that realise this sacred fact have always excelled in the programme, while their counterparts that thought otherwise are busy agitating for shift of the goalpost to accommodate what could be better described as lack of commitment.
Therefore, the resident doctors are hereby advised to return to their duty posts primarily for their own good and that of the public. Obviously, their continued strike action cannot ground activities in FMC, as there are enough consultants, specialist doctors, nurses and other health workers presently on their duty post. They should know that continued strike will definitely affect their performances in the forthcoming examinations, and management of FMC will not hesitate to show them the way out after exhausting the six chances available for them.