Nfld. & Labrador

Infighting threatens N.L. anesthesia training

The former chair of Memorial University's department of anesthesia says the program is more deeply troubled with infighting and harassment than has been previously reported.

Former chair calls for extensive review of St. John's-based program

The former chair of Memorial University of Newfoundland's department of anesthesia says the program he once led is more deeply troubled with infighting and harassment than has been previously reported.

In February, the Canadian body that accredits medical school programs warned that it will withdraw accreditation of the university's anesthesia training program if an intimidation problem isn't addressed.

At the time, the medical school's dean, Dr. James Rourke, responded to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's letter with a promise to fix what he described as an intimidation problem between medical residents and staff anesthesiologists who train them.

Dr. Ken LeDez is a former chair of the discipline of anesthesia at Memorial University of Newfoundland. ((CBC))

In an email to CBC news, Dr. Ken LeDez, a former chair of the department, criticized Rourke's response.

"It is ridiculous to suggest that intimidation and harassment and associated stresses for anesthesia residents can be ended while ignoring the harassment and obstruction and infighting among staff anesthesiologists that creates a toxic, poisonous work environment that is completely ill-suited for training, research or medical excellence," wrote LeDez.

LeDez, who continues to work as an anesthesiologist in St. John's, said bad relationships between staff in the department forced him to leave a position there.

"I resigned as Academic Chair of the Discipline of Anesthesia because of an unsatisfactory work environment and systematic obstruction and harassment by a small clique of people running the clinical department and the failure of the dean to take any action against these individuals," he said.

LeDez said the anesthesia-training program is so troubled that it should not accept new residents until its problems are fixed.

"It is inappropriate to have a training program when multiple anesthesiologists are not even on speaking terms," said LeDez.

"We should not be recruiting new residents under the conditions that exist at present in anesthesia. There is no chance for residents when intimidation, harassment and discord pervade the environment amongst the staff anesthesiologists."

The anesthesia program accepts three to five new residents — medical school graduates who are continuing their studies in a medical specialty — every year. In any given year, 20 to 25 doctors are training to be anesthetists in the five-year program. The college normally reviews each program it accredits every six years.

LeDez is calling for a review of Memorial University's medical school that goes further than the regular reviews done by the Royal College.

"The problems are much more serious and entrenched than the dean acknowledges. What is needed is a comprehensive independent review of the conduct of the dean and university on these matters, something that the university has refused to accept," he said.

A Royal College accreditation committee found two problems:

  • Ongoing allegations of intimidation that remain unresolved by the program.
  • Lack of supervision by the cardiology staff on-call when the residents are on the cardiac care unit rotation.

The college said it will do an external review to see if the university has fixed these problems by Jan. 31, 2013.

The university can ask the college to begin its review earlier.