A glimpse of the future

Today I was a medical student observer at the PARO General Council. PARO stands for the “Professional Association of Residents of Ontario”, sort of a student union but for the medical residents throughout the party. It was quite an experience sitting in this 5 hour meeting in a swanky business suite on the 19th floor of a massive bank building. Seemed more like the setting for a corporate take-over rather than the meeting place for a group of young physicians with a passion for advocacy.

The point was addressed fairly early on, “Residents have come a long way.” In the past the resident was seen still as more student than anything else, forced to sleep in the hospitals, barely compensated for their long hours of work, and kept voiceless on any of the matters happening in their workplace. They have the chance to start a family, they are paid for the long hours they put in (how fair renumeration is will always be a heated topic), and they are finally regarded as professionals when working with their colleagues and attendings.

Yet it was not a simple path to reach the guaranteed rights and benefits residents now possess. It took years of fighting, the insight to realize groups like PARO would become necessary, and incredible amounts of advocacy. Often this was done by residents for their fellow colleagues, even more so it was done so that future residents would end up with better conditions than before. It was a tremendous sacrifice of their time and effort, because they still had to keep up their duties to the hospital and their patients. Humbled was the only word that came to mind.

Actually, grateful would work as well.

And as the story of PARO’s early history and how it transitioned to some of the current day issues unfolded, I saw how the achievements were not just simple static events of the past. Everything continues to flow from one stage to the next. Some issues have been addressed and settled already, and some still require work. Efforts in trying to establish fair duty hours and manage fatigue while on service is becoming a hot topic, as is advocacy to ensure residents can be informed on what they can expect for a future job market when they emerge from their training.

As each generation of residents pass, new issues relevent to that cohort emerge and need to be handled.

I guess my point is that one day (sooner or later), my classmates and I will become a new generation of residents. We’ll be enjoying a lot of the benefits that hundreds before us worked so hard (maybe as hard as their clinical training), to achieve. But we need to keep up the fight. It won’t be enough to simply take these benefits like some sort of professional hand-me-down.

We need to pay it forward when the time comes.