Mentioning The Unmentionable, What Happens When Doctors Get Sick
- General Interest
Every day GPs, Doctors and Consultants treat patients going through some form of illness or injury. You form a treatment plan, advise on how to achieve the best recovery outcomes and how much sick leave might be needed to aid the process.
So what happens when you face this situation yourself? Listening to the experiences of two medical professionals (a Consultant and a GP) who faced this situation, there are common themes in their stories.
‘Neither (my wife) nor I had any medical issues…no red or orange flags’
Dr Niall Cahill, a Limerick-based GP, was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2014. Such was nature of the condition, there was no time to prepare for his essential sick leave. Work had to cease with immediate effect and there would be an extensive period of convalescence ahead.
Locums had to be drafted in immediately to cover Dr Cahill’s patients. The practice’s patients were used to a male/female split (he runs the practice with his wife, also a GP) and niche specialties were catered for such as minor surgery, joint injections etc. There needed to be a continuity of care and locums were required to fill that gap.
He explains that while he received a small locum benefit from the HSE it didn’t go near the lost earnings experienced. These massive costs needed to be an income to cover them. He also points out the other financial variables such as mortgages, a family, education etc, that they still have to be paid. Critically so do health insurance premiums.
‘As a doctor you think that if something serious happens you will feel it, in my case that didn’t apply.’
Dr Vilimkova managed a busy career as a Consultant Paediatrician with clinics in Crumlin Children’s Hospital, Mount Carmel and Roselawn Private Clinic in addition to her teaching / examiner post at RCSI. In December 2012, following a standard check-up she received the news that she had breast cancer. With no family history of the disease and good general health, the diagnosis came completely out of the blue. When her doctor mentioned the term cancer she knew that something would need to be done immediately. A treatment plan was developed and within a few days of the news she had her first surgery. Her work schedule came to a complete standstill.
Dr Vilimkova went on to have four extensive surgeries over the next two years, each one resulting in a recovery time of up to three months. However it was the consequence of the treatments rather than the cancer itself that had the greatest impact on her future. Procedures to relocate muscle & ligament tissue were required to balance her spine and aid movement. This resulted in a major loss of shoulder/arm mobility and significant pain. As a Consultant Paediatrician, it would affect her ability to carry out her duties for a long term period.
During such challenging times, the ideal scenario would be total focus on recovery without additional stressors. In the cases of both Dr Cahill and Dr Vilimkova, an income protection policy was in place to ease the financial pressures brought on by their respective situations.
Some medical professionals may have provision to manage a certain period of time without their income, however as referenced above, its not just personal expenses that you’re dealing with (mortgages, car, school fees, household bills). The cost of running a practice is substantial particularly in relation to staff salaries and / or a locum to maintain continuity of care for your patients. Contracting a locum is a significant cost and not entirely covered by the HSE. The contribution reduces over time and ceases entirely after one year.
An Income Protection policy provides a replacement income in the event of illness or injury right through to retirement. Depending on your working and financial circumstances, you can opt to cover yourself from the very first day of illness (Day One Income Protection), or if you have a certain amount or sick leave cover you may choose a deferred period option that would commence from 4 to 52 weeks. The key point is that until such time that are able to return to work, you will have an income (as decided by you) to help meet your costs. If, in the unfortunate event that your illness is long-term, you will receive your policy income right through to retirement age.
Some income protection providers cover all conditions (bar pre-existing) including mental health and pregnancy related issues however some do not. When making a decision about cover it is really important to consider your working status, lifestyle and future plans.
Medical Professionals invest years building their careers and lifestyles so it is definitely worth taking the time to see how it can be protected.
By John O’Connor
MD, Omega Financial Management