January 12, 2011

Winter of Discontent

In a pressure tactic designed to get the attention of the provincial Ministry of Health and Social Services, Quebec public sector psychologists announced in December 2010 that they are refusing to accept psychology interns for the 2011/2012 school year. Their problem: poor working conditions and lack of respect for their work, as demonstrated by remuneration not commensurate with the demands and the training requirements of the profession.
Yearly salary for a full-time psychologist in the public sector in Quebec is between $37,219 and $70,759 and comparisons with the salaries of psychologists in the rest of Canada ($57,000 to $130,000) and with other health care professionals in Quebec reveal significant discrepancies. For example, although Quebec social workers, nurses, and physiotherapists are eligible to practice as professionals after completing their undergraduate training and psychologists have to complete a PhD (i.e., a minimum of five more years of school, creating a corresponding five more years worth of student loans, and a five-year delay before starting to earn), the former professionals earn salaries that are equal to or higher than that of Quebec psychologists.
In response to the lack of respect and recognition, Quebec psychologists are leaving the public system en masse to work in private practice, where they can earn between $85 and $150 per one-hour session. The holes in the mental health care system mean that full-time psychologists are stretched extremely thin between clinical work (e.g., evaluation, psychometric testing, treatment, crisis management, consultation with other professionals), research, administrative tasks, and teaching and supervision, and that Quebeckers who can’t afford private services face long waiting lists for mental health care.
Refusing to train interns effectively stalls the education of new psychologists in the province, threatening to even further increase the number of vacant psychologist positions in the public system. For Quebec citizens, it means even less accessibility to services. For me, it means that my internship applications for next fall, mailed before Christmas, are being received but not opened, and that my degree—already long—risks being delayed by one year.
However, in the past few days, the Ministry acknowledged the pressure tactic, and a preliminary meeting between Ministry representatives and representatives of Quebec psychologists is in the works. Stay tuned.