Five of the eight orthopedic surgeons at the University of Arizona's medical school in Tucson have resigned, citing frustrations over workload and pay, officials said.
The resignations were a blow to the medical school, which finished its fiscal year last June more than $6 million in debt.
The five surgeons wouldn't discuss their resignations, but other doctors and administrators were candid about the problems that prompted the departures and their concerns for the school's future.
"This certainly is a very significant loss," said James Dalen, dean of the College of Medicine. "First of all, these are excellent surgeons. They are very good teachers, very dedicated academicians.
"But they are frustrated. They work harder and harder, and their revenues continue to decrease."
In hopes of boosting the revenues of University Physicians, the UA doctors' business group, the doctors are being told to see more and more patients, Dalen and others said.
That in turn makes it next to impossible to excel as teachers and do research, the doctors said.
Along with the increased workload, many doctors at the university have taken two pay cuts over the past five years, amounting in most cases to a 20% reduction in salary.
Dalen notified the doctors last year that if they, their section and their department were in the red, 10% of their salaries would be withheld starting Jan. 1.
If the doctor or his or her section of the department could get out of debt by June 30, however, the amount withheld would be paid in full. But that apparently came as small consolation for the surgeons who are leaving.
Their average salary is about $200,000 a year, while an orthopedic surgeon in private practice makes $500,000 or more, Dalen and others said.