ATHENS, GREECE – Medical and Surgical sub-specialists, indignant over falling pay and declining quality of life, have united again this year at the American Medical Association’s annual “Western Healthcare INcome and Equality” (WHINE) forum. This one week cruise of sparkling waters and spectacular sun-bleached islands is just the thing that these beleaguered docs need to soothe the indigent soul.
“A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to be a doctor,” says Orthopedist John Satterly as he sits poolside on the Festival Cruise Line’s flagship, Majestous. He gestures with his Mai Tai as he talks, “They see big houses, ski trips, and nice cars, but they don’t realize how much we hurt.”
“I look at my friends, who went into investment banking… I don’t even really know what it is that they do in the office each day, but the way that they create money out of thin air while sitting at a desk is incredible, rewarding, and heroic. When I see their lives, I envy them as I get up each day and slog through the excrement of treating the same old needy, demanding human beings with the same old life-threatening issues.”
Group seminars offer advice on everything from coping with the rising cost of educating kids and protecting assets to tips for handling those frustrating pages while on vacation. Although the diversity of career paths and skills is broad, all of this year’s members expressed a gratitude that they didn’t become pediatricians or family practitioners.
“Ha, I don’t know how someone even lives off of $140K!” scoffed Vin Hough, MD, a plastic surgeon from Madison, Wisconsin. “It’s unbelievable.”
At the evening cocktail hour, the communal anguish is palpable.
“Just because 99.99% of the world’s population would love to be in our shoes doesn’t mean that we don’t suffer. Twenty years ago, the money was pouring in and now it’s just a trickle…barely enough to keep the lights on in the beach house.”
Indeed, as the Majestous circles the last of the Ionian Islands and the world-weary physicians return to the brutal sweatshop of modern medicine, they’ve been given just enough hope to dream of a day when our healthcare system might allow them to rise up from beneath the crushing weight of poverty and live freely once again. Sometimes, that ember of hope is all they have to keep warm in a very, very cold world.