In following the convention of corporate buzzwords and inane euphemisms, this chapter uses the term "human resources" to refer to the people you work with. These people are human, and may possess unpleasant character traits. In fact, the ICU environment seems to be a powerful filter designed to identify and concentrate people with severe personality disorders. The combination of a stressful work environment and perpetual inter-department conflict tends to grind down even the ones who start out normal.
This topic has yet to appear in the college papers. The specific domains of HR which could potentially be examinable would probably have to include such things as the approach to an underperforming staff member, what to do when your staff are depressed or intoxicated, how to protect from burnout and various other such things.
The Australian ICU Workforce Crisis
Our former college president had (in 2015) authored a review of the Australian ICU workforce, a "workforce survey" if you will, which produced some ugly figures. At a risk of angering the accrediting body, I reproduce these figures below:
A few notable points:
- There is an oversupply of fellows
- The college in 2015 had 898 active Fellows (including overseas Fellows) and 594 active trainees.
- Only 30-40% of the trainees go on to actually complete the training program
- About 22% of recent graduates are “underemployed”, i.e. persist in non-specialist jobs after completion of specialist training
- The training program is now completely screwed: "recent changes to the selection process for new trainees have been associated with a dramatic reduction in the number of new trainees, from 334 in 2013 to 55 in 2014"; however there appears to be some denial about the disastrous effect of this on future staffing ("the enduring effect of this is yet to be determined", they wrote).
Things to realise:
- The colleges are legislated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as bodies whose role is limited to education and accreditation, not workforce planning.
- To limit the intake of trainees would be illegal, and historically the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand was fined its entire assets when it was deemed to be unfairly limiting “trade” (quoted from Bevan et al, 2015). However, CICM can cheat: "the result of changing [training] standards may indirectly influence the supply of trainees".
- In 2015, the ANZICS director survey showed a mean demand of 1.3 new positions per ICU over the next 5 years, i.e. 100–150 new full-time specialist positions by 2020. However, there will also be 200–300 new CICM Fellows created over this period.
The Elderly Intensivist
CICM have a lovely "Statement on the Practice of Intensive Care Medicine and the Older Intensive Care Specialist" which addresses the problem of having one's critical care competence degraded by the ravages of age. As one might expect, the statement is strong where it comes to supporting and valuing the "wisdom, perspective and experience" of older intensive care specialists. Where it comes to concerns regarding the safety of practice, they mutter something about "the natural age related decline in motor and cognitive functions" and go on to offer their support in advice and assistance.
This can be contrasted with the treatment of the trainee with difficulties. A 2012 article from the MJA gives us insight into the issues in managing an ageing medical workforce.
- The medical community is ageing in parallel with the population
- There is evidence that older doctors perform poorly in comparison to younger doctors
- No Australian specialist college has any policies in place regarding the special circumstances of the ageing specialist.
- There is evidence that ageing doctors intuitively adopt changes such as such as taking longer with patients, avoiding isolation and areas of unfamiliar practice, and retiring from procedural work.
- A policy of mandatory retirement would be inappropriate, because of wide individual variations in the effects of age on performance.
- Competence assessment beyond a certain age may be a good idea, but there is disagreement as to who needs testing, and how to test them.
- Workload adaptation is the buzzword used to describe the practice of farming the elderly intensivist out to the medical schools, mentorship, administrative duties and research (thus removing them from the immediate vicinity of the patients).