May Update

Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone that completed this year’s negotiation and remuneration survey we sent out recently. 652 of our members took the time to complete the survey, so thank you! We are now starting to review the responses and will be using your feedback to directly influence preparations for negotiations and what we ask for at the table. Thank you to those who also answered the remuneration questions in relation to ‘how RMOs are paid’. As we’ve discussed previously, we are working with a consultancy alongside Te Whatu Ora to review the pay structure for RMOs. The aim is that pay is better distributed relative to your hours and shifts worked and it is more transparent and easier for us all to understand. We will keep you updated as this project progresses! 

Winter seems to be approaching the hospitals across the country very rapidly. Bed occupancy is increasing – mostly for our medicine and paediatric departments. And for those that are in surgery you’ll see the knock-on effects of patients cancelling due to sickness or lack of beds affecting theatre lists.  

The last 3 months I have been at Starship. As an ENT trainee I have been relatively protected from the onslaught of wintertime and respiratory illnesses. However, over the last month I have seen the effects winter has on a children’s hospital: PICU filling up, lists being reduced, children being unwell therefore cancelling, and every second room being in ‘aerosol precautions’ regardless of the ward.  

On a personal note, my life has taken a slightly different turn though…I have recently started maternity leave and am awaiting our son to arrive – hopefully sooner rather than later! 

I was lucky to have organised my maternity leave with some background knowledge, but it is a bit of a minefield. So, this blog will focus on my learning's and hopefully some helpful tips for those of you soon going on leave, partners going on leave – or thinking about parental leave in the future. 

Figuring out parental leave:

  • In the early stages, it is your choice when you tell your employer and the college (if applicable). Check your college guidelines about the latest you can tell them. If you are on training, you will likely need to submit specific paperwork to the college. Think about finding a trusted person on the board to talk it through with if you are not ready to put in your paperwork (i.e., too early in pregnancy) to gauge your options for time off etc.  

  • I encourage conversations with your department and college board (if applicable) about return to work, time you’ll take off and what centre you might return to. Its best to have a two-way conversation and work out what will be best for everyone. Parental leave is your right but the more you encourage open lines of communication between you and the powers that be the easier it might be for everyone.  

  • Remember to do all your forms and early! Things take a while to process, and it is easier to change the dates than have it all processed late. You may risk your parental leave payments from IRD etc being late. There is a very helpful checklist on the STONZ website that can help you out.  

Reduced hours:

The STONZ SECA has guidelines on when you can reduce hours. This is your choice, so if you want to work longer than this you can. Dropping on calls/long days/nights will potentially affect your pay during that time. If you have any trouble get in touch with the STONZ team. I was lucky that I managed on call till 31 weeks but by then I was done!  

You will need a letter from your midwife/doctor to confirm dropping hours, this will allow you to get your ‘non-reduced’ salary while on maternity leave. Have these conversations with them early.  

How to cope while pregnant:

Hopefully you will have a great pregnancy and sail on through, but others may feel absolutely horrific for some, or all of their pregnancy. Let me tell you that on those days wearing a mask, the smells in the hospital and a slightly longer ward round than expected – you will feel like the world is about to end. Here is how I got through (everyone will have different things that work for them, so I encourage you to talk to your colleagues that have been through it before): 

  • Peppermint oil was in my mask at all times. 

  • LOTS of snacks, every week it was a bit different but gingernuts, salty nuts and bliss balls were my go-to.  

  • Talk to your midwife about anti-nausea. I carried my medication everywhere during my pregnancy. I still find it hidden in pockets of bags and jackets now. 

  • I constantly sucked on sugar free butter candies. 

  • While on call I would wear compression socks and SRC shorts under my scrubs. My pockets would contain anti-nausea medication, a drink bottle and snacks knowing sometimes I wouldn’t get time to get back to the office for these.  

  • Reach out for help when needed; swap clinics, reduce clinic size, ask for help during a case. If we had a big case, I would often find a registrar (the one holding the acute phone usually) to come in at a specific time where I might need a sit down, toilet break etc and they could sub in for me for a short time.  

  • Before you are ready for everyone to know find a few colleagues you can trust early, I told one fellow registrar in case I needed back up at any stage and one boss who I was operating with in case I needed to scrub out at any stage.  

  • Don’t be scared to need to scrub out, sit down, take a minute, or take a sick day. Being pregnant can be really tough especially in our jobs! 

  • Have a read about what you might need to adjust or avoid in your specific field: 

    • Avoiding cytotoxic agents and radioactive iodine. 

    • Scrub with chlorhexidine instead of iodine. 

    • Exposure to nitrous oxide or other anaesthetic gases.  

    • Double-up lead gowning in theatre. 

    • Compression socks to help with vasovagal or varicose veins. 

    • Ask to keep theatre temperature down or have a fan in your clinic room. 

    • Sit down whenever possible! 

    • Look into SRC shorts or a pelvic belt for pelvic girdle and back pain. 

    • Write EVERYTHING down – baby brain is real! 

If you are pregnant or your partner is pregnant the STONZ team are here to help navigating paperwork and conversations with RMO units. I have had only positive experiences with my college, the department I was working in and all the other staff; and I am very grateful for that! Open communication was a huge factor in ensuring that I had a good time.  

Now I’ll get back to sitting on my Swiss ball and drinking my raspberry leaf tea!  

Christina Matthews 
STONZ President 

*Note: This is a blog sharing personal experiences and does not constitute medical advice in anyway. 


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