Doctors in Venezuela Reluctantly Acknowledge Their Holiday, Instead of Celebrating

Today is National Doctor’s day. Bravery, courage and dedication. That’s all we can celebrate. Healing is both a choice and a calling you can’t escape and Venezuelan doctors don’t want to.

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.

Astrid Cantor

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.