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“It breaks my heart”: Local offers support for Sask. medical specialists

A Lloydminster woman is speaking out after hearing the doctors she’s seen have left their practice in Saskatchewan due to work stress.

Wendy Gulbis received a letter in October stating that Saskatoon-based gynecologic oncologists who treated her cancer were leaving for personal reasons.

Reports show that Dr. Anita Agrawal accepted a job in Ontario and Dr. Christopher Giede has been on indefinite medical leave since September.

Both have said it’s because of a demanding workload and lack of a third gynecologic oncologist in the city.

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Gulbis says the news of their leaving due to exhaustion is heartbreaking.

“They’re just fantastic people, and my level of care was stellar. I didn’t know that they were getting burnt out, I didn’t know how much they did, but it breaks my heart.”

Gulbis was diagnosed with cancer in September 2015 and finished treatment in July 2016. Until now she’s seen the doctors every three or four months for follow-up appointments to see if her cancer is still in remission.

“I’m supposed to have an appointment this January, but it hasn’t been scheduled yet, and I really have no idea who it’s going to be with or anything.”

Gulbis says that not knowing who she’s seeing increases the anxiety she has around her appointments.

“Even knowing who my doctor is I experience a lot of anxiety for these appointments. The anxiety is more than it has been because I don’t know who it is, and I have no relationship with whoever it is, and I don’t know if they’ll be permanent.”

She hasn’t heard when her next appointment is scheduled for and hopes that her letter is slowed by holiday mail traffic.

Gulbis says the work they these doctors do is invaluable and lifesaving in the fight against cancer.

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“Because these people are saving lives every day, and when they can’t save a life they walk the journey with someone who’s dying. Like how do you replace that?”

Gulbis says she would love to see a minimum of three specialists and more support for those working in the province.

“I know Dr. Giede had said they need a minimum of three, and I just trust that. Clearly, I don’t have that experience. I just think, if we want these specialists in our province, they need to be treated with respect and given the support that they need.”

The gynecologic oncology program is provided in partnership between the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.

Karen Hill, Director of Communications for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health says the Ministry supports the agency’s planning “to ensure a quality, stable provincial program.”

“We continue to actively recruit for gynecologic oncologists. Saskatchewan Health Authority is working closely with saskdocs on recruitment efforts for two gyne-oncologist positions in Saskatoon and a third position in Regina and we are already seeing interest,” says Hill.

She points out that the position is highly specialized, with a limited candidate pool and high demand in both Canada and the United States. While they look to recruit more gyne-oncology specialists, Hill mentions there are locum, or temporary specialists, available to provide patient care.

She adds the Ministry has incentives available in the recruiting process.

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“We are offering a $30,000 signing bonus with a three-year return of service commitment, as well as a $30,000 interest-free loan which is repayable in three years. The successful candidate may also be eligible for the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s $30,000 Specialist Recruitment Incentive Grant.”

Hill says that last September the Ministry advised the College of Medicine and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to pursue providing fellowships for two obstetrician/gynecologist residents to take the two-year added training required to become gynecologic oncologists.

The financial support of the fellowship, approximately $100K per year, would require a return for service commitment in Saskatchewan.

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