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Coronavirus: Medical Professionals Are The Cinderella Of This Public Health Emergency

Specialists are being undervalued when they should be celebrated.

OPINION: Public health medicine specialists have been at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus in New Zealand both in advising the government, leadership and operational implementation, and monitoring and evaluating.

But, as part of a wider crisis of specialist shortages of around 24 per cent in our district health boards, they are the Cinderella of this fatigued and burnt-out workforce.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of DHB-employed specialists, public health specialists are not involved in the treatment of patients.

Instead they are medically qualified doctors who have become specialists in the assessment of population health and healthcare needs.

This involves managing, researching and influencing. Their role extends beyond health systems into areas such as housing and food quality.

Being in the frontline of crises is not a new experience for them. They performed this role previously with skill and appreciation in the Sars epidemic in 2003 and swine flu in 2009.

n infectious diseases specialist says new, wider Covid-19 testing rules still won't test enough people to give a true picture of community transmission.

Their contribution has contributed significantly to some excellent pandemic planning that is serving us so well now.

Despite this these specialists have historically been under-valued by some of their colleagues working in the various branches of medicine involved in the treatment of patients.

Some saw them as not being 'real' doctors because they didn't treat patients.

But it is more than stereotyped devaluing from some within the profession. Their role in between crises is devalued by the health system itself. According to Medical Council data, in 2018 (excluding GPs) there were 6,508 vocationally registered specialists in New Zealand (mainly DHBs but also universities and private sector) of whom 169 were public health specialists.

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