18 Apr 2017

Med student in row over doctors' vote

8:43 pm on 18 April 2017

A battle is under way for the top job at the century-old New Zealand Medical Association - and a student is one of the contenders.

Doctor, nurse of other health worker filling out medical form

Photo: 123RF

The position of chairperson is up for re-election and some are upset that a sixth-year medical student, Liz Berryman, is in the running for the job.

The New Zealand Medical Association is a key group in health, representing the professional interests of all doctors and advocating on medical and political issues.

Ms Berryman, a former qualified nurse and the former head of the Medical Students Association, told Nine to Noon there were 14,000 registered doctors in the country, but just 5500 were members of the association.

"The New Zealand Medical Association has been around for over 100 years and has a very proud history with a majority of doctors [who] were members of this association.

"And I think that now it's at a critical point where only 20 percent are members so we really need to have radical change," she said.

Ms Berryman will be running against GP leaders Kate Baddock and Tane Taylor.

Ms Berryman was clear about whether a student could have the nous to lead a national organisation of other senior and junior doctors.

"I have the experience and the ability to be able to do this role, and I don't think it should be about your age, your gender, your position in a hierarchy system or your job title. It should be about whether you're the right person for the role."

And, in response to criticism she would not have time as a trainee doctor for the requirements of the role, she said that was wrong too.

"I also sit on many boards, commercial boards, and my husband and I run a very busy business, so I have definitely got experience in managing my time and I have the full support of my university to do this."

Ms Berryman said that if she were elected chair, she would put work as a first-year house officer, or junior hospital doctor, on hold.

Adding interest is that 44 percent of association members are medical students, who could block-vote for Ms Berryman.

'Unprecedented'

Stephen Child is the outgoing association chair.

"We have students because they pay $40 for their membership throughout their entire medical school," he said.

"We have a high membership of students and they are going to be a high voting block, and this may turn out that Liz gets a good support."

Stephen Child, chair of the NZ Medical Association

Stephen Child Photo: SUPPLIED

Dr Child said Ms Berryman was impressive, but her candidacy raised major questions for the organisation.

"I think the question is really about can a person who is not a member of the profession yet, is not a qualified doctor yet, have credibility when she is speaking on behalf of the profession.

"As far as we're aware this is unprecedented for any student of any professional organisation."

He said fulfilling the duties of chair occupied him for 71 days over the past two years.

"As far as I'm aware it'll be very difficult to be a medical student and to spend 71 days away from medical school as well.

"So I think there's a time concern that we have, there's a concern for Liz's ability to fulfil the role, and there's also as I say the concern about her credibility to represent the organisation."

Medical Council chair Andrew Connolly said it was a unique set of circumstances for the important group and all members should vote.

"I'd encourage all members to consider the skill-set of the three applicants and make an informed vote, not only for that role but also on the other roles that have people standing," he said.

Otago Business School pro-vice-chancellor and dean Robin Gauld, who is another close observer of the health system, said experience and credibility would be key requirements for whoever got the job.

"What's really required to me would be someone who has a strong understanding of both the policy process as well as the desires of the membership and is able to lead - lead the membership into the future.

"And to me what would be important is having a lot of experience and credibility amongst members as well as among policy-makers."

Voting closes Wednesday 26 April, with a decision expected about a week later.