Physician well-being has declined significantly in Canada since the pandemic

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Physician well-being has declined significantly in Canada since the pandemic

The survey indicates that a quarter of respondents experienced severe or moderate anxiety and almost half suffered from depression. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Toronto — Physician wellbeing across Canada has declined significantly, with many physicians reporting poorer mental health than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

The Canadian Medical Association’s National Physician Health Survey, released Thursday, says 53% of respondents reported symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion.

The reported rate of burnout among physicians was 1.7 times higher than in the Association’s previous survey in 2017.

The survey indicates that a quarter of respondents experienced severe or moderate anxiety and almost half suffered from depression.

Forty-nine percent of physicians who participated in the survey also indicated that they were likely to reduce or change their clinical hours over the next two years.

The association’s president, Dr. Alika Lafontaine, said participants’ responses “reflect the current state of the health care system,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges physicians have faced since. years.

“People are retiring from full-time clinical practice. They’re doing different things to alleviate burnout and there’s a more generalized negative feeling about where the health care system is going (…) and that affects certain types of physicians more. Family doctors in particular are really struggling,” he said in a recent interview.

The online survey was conducted among 4,121 physicians, residents and medical students between October 13 and December 13, 2021.

Dr. Lafontaine, an anesthetist who works in Grande Prairie, Alta., said doctors are resilient, but the level of stress they face is very high.

“We have been trained in situations where stress is a normal part of the job. We know providing care in the medical system is stressful work, but that stress has gotten completely out of control,” he said.

The survey says 36% of doctors have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their life, compared to 18% of doctors who said they thought about suicide in 2017.

Fifty-seven percent of all respondents said they always or often felt tired at work, and only 36 percent of respondents said they always or often slept optimally.

According to Mr. Lafontaine, provincial governments in Canada have had an “obsessed with efficiency” over the past two decades, and that health care providers have not received the necessary support in their workplaces.

He said health care providers, administrators and governments should start working on pan-Canadian solutions.

“Then make sure we have the right priorities: focus on sustainable work environments, high quality care and a safe environment for patients,” he added.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine, who recently became the first elected Indigenous president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the federal government can help by working toward greater collaboration in health human resources.

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