Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews “appalled” by number of millionaire doctors

Surely you've seen this tableau play out in North American pop culture.

A wealthy surgeon exits his multimillion-dollar home and jumps into a shiny sports car. Expensive golf clubs sit in the back seat, primed for a weekend round with other wealthy surgeons (and maybe a politician or two).

Stereotypes like this have inspired generations of parents to push their children in medical school — some for the important contribution doctors make to society, others for the idea that it will cement a lifestyle filled with wealth and prestige.

Though there are a handful of medical professionals who indeed fit the scene above, the reality is a little less cushy.

Only a small number of specialists command salaries in the seven figures, while most doctors these days are paying off massive student loans well into their careers.

Compared to the U.S., Canada has far fewer surgeons tooling around in luxury vehicles. And with the recently announced fee cuts, the National Post reports that many Canadian docs are considering a move down south.

But as QMI Agency reports, Ontario's Health Minister is still angered by the number of millionaire doctors populating the province.

"I was appalled when I saw how many were making in excess of $1 million," Deb Matthews said, referring to a list that counted over 400 names in 2010.

"Some doctors are getting paid too much. We need to address the issue of relativity. Some doctors in some specialties are earning a fraction of what doctors in other specialties are earning."

That list, revealed by the Toronto Sun, revealed that the top-billing doctor raked in $6.4 million.

Another five docs rounded out the top shelf at more than $3 million a pop.

The crux of the issue, claims Matthews, stems from inequalities surrounding certain specialties.

Cardiologists, radiologists and ophthalmologists are represented in disproportionate numbers in the millionaires' club and it's these specialties that will be hit hardest by the cuts she proposed in April.

"It's very much part of what I'm doing to physician compensation, when I see numbers like that clustered around certain specialties," she told QMI.

In addition to fee cuts, Matthews' new deal includes a two-year wage freeze. She stressed that the average doctor now earns 85 per cent more than he or she did under the Liberals in 2003.

But the new conditions have failed to impress the Ontario Medical Association. Moving beyond a contract negotiation standstill, the OMA has filed a constitutional complaint against the demands.

OMA president Doug Weir stressed that few doctors deposit everything they bill into their bank accounts, and some, he said, spend up to 40 per cent on operating costs.

More than that, doctors are working harder than ever to fill in wait time gaps and treat as many patients as possible.

"It's important to point out that Ontario's doctors are seeing more patients and providing more services than ever before," Weir said. "In fact, we know that over the last five years, the number of services that patients require has increased on average by 3.7% per year."

As negotiations continue, the battle has provided a rare window into the realities faced by the country's medical professionals.

It will be interesting if the outcome will influence pop culture's doctor stereotype — at least in Canada — from wealthy bon vivant into harried professional.