Doctors in Venezuela Reluctantly Acknowledge Their Holiday, Instead of Celebrating

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Photo: Diario La Voz, retrieved

Three months after my graduation, I found myself in a tiny consulting room. It was 9:30 a.m. and already, I was thinking it would be a miracle to make it through that shift. I had seen about 20 patients, had about 30 more queueing up outside. Overwhelmed, trying to hear my patient’s heartbeat, just asking God to send some patience and endurance my way.

Then, Mora, the nurse, walks in:Doctorcita, ¡Feliz Día del Médico!” She said, putting a chocolate covered doughnut on my desk.

“Oh crap, I forgot” I told myself. I had forgotten my own holiday. This was incredible because ever since I got into med school, on March 10 every year, my friends and I would say “soon enough, we’ll celebrate this”. The crazy schedule they had me enslaved in, had me on call and working 24 hour every three days. I could barely remember my own name. So much for celebrating.

I wish I could tell you the rest of my day suddenly improved and everything turned out for the better, but, that’s not what happened. We got slammed, and that was the day I beat my own record: 85 patients in one day. I ate the doughnut at 3 a.m.

Everybody knows doing this for a living is not easy. You don’t walk into med school with a “Piece of cake” attitude. But, trust me, we had no idea that practicing medicine in this country would become the synonym of catching a glimpse of hell.

If she’s lucky, a doctor working on the public sector will be making around 4$ a month.

Doctors are one of the most overworked —if not the most— underpaid professionals in Venezuela. Healthcare providers carry the biggest responsibility of all on their shoulders while struggling as much as anyone else in this country.

Health professionals are, at the mercy of the regime’s scarcity policies and challenged despite the latter, to provide high quality healthcare and save lives. Of course, you wouldn’t want you or your family to get anything less than that. Yet, mistakes made in the face of the dire circumstances, the sleepless shifts, the hunger, the meaningless pay, and bills piling up, are entirely on us.

This is not always fair. But, we knew it, we signed up for it. At the end of the day we expected nothing but to make a decent living and help people. Today, the deception is too big to ignore, as none of that is achievable. On top of everything, the institutions that are to watch for the doctors and patients rights, turn a blind eye on the crisis. While the government admittedly sayst that there is no crisis, the Venezuelan Federation of Doctors has done little to nothing to fight for fair salaries or patient’s rights.

Yes, doctors have rights, as much as the next person. We have the right to make a living, to grow in our fields, to work decent hours. Reality is, when you walk into a doctor’s office in any public environment, what you’ll see is a slave in a desk. If she’s lucky, a doctor working on the public sector will be making around 4$ a month: Imagine having to make life or death decisions while working that many hours for that wage. It’s slavery and we don’t say it enough.

Trust me, we had no idea that practicing medicine in this country would become the synonym of catching a glimpse of hell.

Neither does our union. Today I wondered, why are we not on a dispute with the government over our salaries? Why aren’t there nationwide actions to condemn organized crime in our hospitals? Doctors are getting stabbed on their way to work. Health workers are now holding the fort, alone. That will end soon, I’m afraid, as nurses, interns, residents and attendings don’t make enough money to even pay for transportation to their workplaces.

There’s a lot we’ve had to deal and cope with. Patients yelling at us because there are no supplies to treat them, as if it were our fault! Or getting mugged on the way to work, disrespect and even discriminated. (All of the above has happened to me).

Sometimes, we wonder: why are we still doing this job?

The answer to that question is perhaps, the only thing worth making a toast to: Our bravery. Cheers to all of my colleagues for their courage, to those who valiantly decided to leave this country to look for a better future. Cheers to those who remain, for all of you are miracle workers.

To all my fellow doctors,  —MICs not included, of course— I sincerely hope someone puts a doughnut on your desk today.

Aside from the passion you work with, and the love and dedication you treat every patient with, there’s nothing to celebrate.

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Head of the Church of Martha Stewart: I bake therefore I am. Táchirense: Almojabana and quesadilla lover, "toche" and "juemadre" user. Pastelitos de queso con bocadillo fanatic and overall gochadas supporter. Also doctor —as in proper MD— and pobresora universitaria too.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. I can’t imagine what you guys have to go through.

    The emotional pain of not being able to help someone when you know you COULD has to be devastating, taking its toll on both your own mental and physical health.

    You have my respect, as well as sympathy.

  2. Dr. Cantor,
    How are you and your co workers affected by the Cuban medical workers that are in the country?
    My understanding of their plight is that they are paid a small fraction of the money that the Cuban government collects for sending them to other countries. It seems to me that sending the Cubans home and spending the money on Venezuelan doctors and supplies would be more effective. Would trading Cuban doctors for medicines decrease your workload? Considering that the ability to give someone a prescription to treat their malady and them not needing additional treatment, would eliminate the requirement for additional attention as you deal with an untreated medical condition and the ensuing complications.
    There was an article on CC that addressed the fraudulent reports that the Cuban medical professionals created to make it appear that they are much more productive than they actually are. I have also been told by people that I assist in rural areas of Venezuela that access to a doctor is a challenge. Apparently some areas of the country have not had any local general practitioners for years and are forced to travel significant distances to see a doctor. Treatment is further complicated by the lack of medicines in pharmacies.
    One can only imagine the frustration that you must experience when you are unable to help a patient that is afflicted with a condition that would be easily treatable if the supplies were available.
    You can be certain that there is much gratitude for you and your co workers that have stayed to do the best you can to help people rather than abandoning them and leaving the country.

  3. Medical Doctors, is a mistake to delay leaving Venezuela, exit now, exit fast, things will not improve, it has been the same story since I remember… 1991.
    Medicine in Venezuela has always been a big lie, it is demoralizing being a doctor there, it always was. Nothing to argue, nothing will change.
    Hurry!

  4. “If she’s lucky, a doctor working on the public sector will be making around 4$ a month.”

    Can anyone answer, then, how do they possibly survive? (Simple math, please: Income vs. Expenses).

    Sure, Clap food is almost free, so they do not eat anything else, right? Transportation, electricity, phone, internet free? Rent? Must be free too. Clothes, hygiene products all medicine must be free.. Zero movies or entertainment, ever, of course. Zero vacations. Zero make-up, no shoes.. Remember, Clapcrap only for food.

    Are all public sector doctors ENCHUFADOS, complicit with the criminal regime? Either that, or they live on solid Remesas from abroad. Or perhaps they reside on a parallel universe, where the laws of simple math do not apply. Now how do “private” sector doctors make per month, on average?

    Millions of supposedly “honest”, hard-working” Venezuelans, in any profession, at all levels, who claim they are not enchufados or receive remesas: they also must live on some unknown parallel Galaxy where $2, $10 or $100/month covers all expenses. Go figure..

    • I was wondering about that chocolate-covered donut. Must have cost the nurse a week’s pay.

      And then there is the lipstick, the eye makeup, and those diamond earrings…

    • I am surprised at how little money is needed in US Dollars to survive in Venezuela.
      The people that I have been helping are surviving on $30-$40 per month per person. “For the price of a cup of coffee….”
      One group of 5 that has 3 people working costs me about $40 per week to keep them above water. They are sharing a home with a single woman that owns the house. She charges them $25 per month rent. I think utilities are incredibly cheap by US standards and the exchange makes them even less expensive.
      An accident or illness is the biggest threat. Obtaining medications is done on the black market. Birth control pills cost as much as the average monthly wage.
      There are other items that don’t seem to be available at any price. I have shipped bicycle tires and tubes, a calculator, vitamins, many personal hygiene items including sanitary pads.
      As long as nothing unexpected occurs, these numbers seem to be holding regardless of the exchange.
      Some basic medications for diabetes and high blood pressure, along with antibiotics are almost impossible to find.

      • BTW John, have you heard from MRubio recently? I know he has a niece needing a kidney transplant that was going to be supplied by her mother. His silence has me fearing the worst.

        • Lorenzo, I am hoping that it is the phone system that is preventing contact with MRubio. One of the last posts that I saw of his, he commented that Movilnet was deteriorating and he said that he was surprised that the lights are still on.
          I have been trying to call him for a couple of weeks. The phone sounds like the call is going through and rings once or twice and then switches to a busy signal. Sometimes I get a recording in Spanish and then English saying that the call can not be connected.
          MRubio has had difficulties for a while accessing his e-mail account. I have emailed him in the hope that he may be somewhere and sign on and see it.
          Apparently, the area that MRubio is in, is also being plagued with electrical outages.
          To complicate things further, the lady that I send shipments to in Caracas and MRubio arranges to get them from her, was robbed again and had her cell phone stolen again. On top of losing so much info on her phone, my ability to contact her has become very limited.
          I was trying to contact MRubio to see if he could help me get a new or used smartphone to our helper in Caracas. Other times when I have been unable to contact him from the States, she has been able to make domestic calls to him.
          If anybody seeing this can part with an old smartphone, especially in Caracas, I would be very grateful.
          I believe the transplant is for his step-granddaughter. She has been very sick with congenital issues. Doctors come from the US on a regular basis to treat her. When she gains weight, her mother will be her kidney donor. Her father needed to fly to Colombia (I believe) and bring back life saving medicine recently.
          If I do successfully contact MRubio, I will let people know that he is OK.

          • In the western part of the country, the rolling blackouts started again last week. This means at least two daily power cuts, of at least two hours each. In addition to the random cuts. This has nothing to do with low water level in any dam, it seems to be due to decrease in generation capacity from lack of maintenance.

      • John, can you give me some info how to transfer money / ship things? According to my information, DHL, which I used before, is not working no more, and shipment of medicine is almost impossible… i would love to help someone, but ran out of possibilities. Thank you.

      • John, can you give me some info how to transfer money / ship things? According to my information, DHL, which I used before, is not working no more, and shipment of medicine is almost impossible… i would love to help someone, but ran out of possibilities. Thank you.

        • Anna,
          I am using a freight forwarder in Miami that is one of the last shippers accepting goods for Venezuela due to the thefts as parcels transit customs. With one exception, all of the shipments have made it to the recipients.
          For cash, I have a Venezuelan national that travels out of the country, accesses a US bank account and is physically carrying Dollars back into the country.
          I make deposits into his account, he gives the cash to my person in Caracas and she distributes it for me.
          That has been working excellently without exception. Some of the people that buy Dollars also have accounts outside of Venezuela and will distribute Bolivars, for a fee after a deposit is made into their US account.
          I would be happy to help you and Caracas Chronicles has my permission to provide you with my contact details.
          Alejandro Machado has been helpful in the past. Are you listening Alejandro?

          • John, that is so kind of you to provide me with such detailed information! The name of the freight forwarder would be tremendously helpful.
            My contact is
            [email protected]
            Thank you so much!
            Anna

  5. Sorry for you to hear yet more of the deplorable conditions. When a regime makes it difficult for people dedicated to health, and education, and all its citizens in general, it has all gone way too far. It’s a pessimistic point of view, maybe, but things can’t go on as they are in Venezuela. I don’t see how. The optimistic point of view if that there must be change in the winds.

  6. I would love to agree with you, Gringo, but I have been thinking the same thing for years. The truth is, change will not happen until someone makes it happen.

  7. Dear dr Cantor,
    I am also a medical doctor and am living in Serbia. The contemporary situation that you are faced now is the same we had in Serbia 25 years ago. Regardless of how this situation in your country would end, I would like to help you and other Venezuelan colleagues to survive in disastrous circumstances you are living in.I can provide you information how to make money online as medical doctors, get schoolarships and live better. And other Venezuelans may also contact me-I can provide them information for free about online money making opportunities. Just send e mail to: [email protected]

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