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CMA physician health policy addresses wellness in the medical profession​

“If you took a room of doctors and asked them if they had ever experienced burnout personally, chances are, most hands the room would go up,” says Dr. Gigi Osler, CMA president-elect.

The reasons are many. Long hours, stressful interactions, and urgent demands mean many physicians reach a state of exhaustion.

“There is a culture of bravado,” says Dr. Osler. “We are expected to be stoic, self-sufficient, and to hide any distress.”

Everyone loses when physician health and wellness is ignored. 

Medical student Kirsten Kukula explains it this way. “When someone is unwell, it is difficult for them to take care of anyone else.”

Compared with the general population, physicians are at a higher risk for depression and burnout. According to data collected through the 2017 CMA National Physician Health survey, 29% of physicians, and 38% of residents reported high burnout rates. Recent national data on medical students tells a similar story. And when it comes to their own physical health, more than one-third of Canadian physicians do not have their own family doctor.

These numbers reflect not only on physician health, but on health systems as a whole. When physician health is compromised, patient care suffers.

This is why the CMA is making physician health a priority, starting with a new policy to address the issue.

EVOLVING POLICY

From its early days, the CMA played a leadership role on physician health. 

In 1998, we were one of the first national medical associations in the world to develop a policy on physician health.

Today, CMA’s policy on physician health continues to evolve, along with the changes in the profession.

We believe physician health is an issue that is bigger than one doctor. To make meaningful and lasting improvements to physician health, the responsibility must shift from being solely that of the individual physician. Physician health is a shared responsibility – of the individual physician, and the systems in which they train and work.

The CMA’s new physician health policy reflects this by recommending action and through a lens of shared responsibility — from 'individual' to 'system' — with particular emphasis on system-level initiatives.

This new policy is just one of the ways the CMA is championing the importance of physician health and wellness. And we want to keep the discussion going. We will soon be releasing more results from our 2017 National Physician Health survey, information that will help quantify the stories we have been hearing from our members, about their own health.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.