Canadian Medical Association

Now what?

We know the health system is collapsing. Every day, there are more signs of distress:

  • A hospital in Toronto put out an urgent plea for physicians, medical residents and other volunteers to help fill nursing shifts to keep its emergency department running.
  • Hospitals in rural communities across Canada are so short staffed they have temporarily closed emergency departments and intensive care units.
  • A patient in Victoria placed an ad in the newspaper pleading for a doctor – any doctor – to renew prescriptions for her 82-year-old husband after their family practitioner retired.
  • A family physician published his own perspective in the Ottawa Citizen – an open letter apologizing to patients for the broken health care system.

I am sorry that I cannot take more patients. I am struggling with my present load. I am overwhelmed at times myself. I’m sorry you are in pain, or worried, or have many unanswered questions, or unmet expectations.  – Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, Ottawa family physician

There is no part of the health care system untouched by the current crisis. The problem isn’t physicians, or nurses, or health care workers. It’s not one province or territory.

But there are solutions. And over the last six months, the Canadian Medial Association (CMA) has brought together thousands of health professionals, patients and policymakers to advance them:

  • In March, we held a second emergency summit with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) to call for immediate actions to address the health workforce crisis.
  • Physicians gathered in April for a CMA Profession Forum tackling record-high burnout in the health sector and the critical backlog in patient care.
  • More than 2,000 people attended the CMA Health Summit – a series of conversations about creating a more sustainable health system and more agile workforce.
  • In May, CMA partnered with the CNA and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to develop health human resources solutions for the short-, medium- and long-term.
  • Most recently, CMA President Dr. Katharine Smart hosted a TwitterSpace discussion – Canada’s health care crisis: where do we go from here? – featuring Toronto researchers Drs. Fahad Razak and Arthur Slutsky, Ontario Medical Association President Dr. Rose Zacharias and B.C. health researcher Lindsay Hedden.

Showing up for a shift in the emergency department and in the hospital just feels different. There is a burden and a weight of our responsibility for caring for patients inside a system that has fractures. – Dr. Rose Zacharias

Through these conversations and partnerships, common solutions to the health care crisis have emerged. They include: 

  • Expanding team-based care so more Canadians have timely access to family doctors and other primary care practitioners
  • Creating a national health human resource strategy to rebuild Canada’s health care workforce in a proactive and sustainable way
  • Improving workforce data collection across health systems to track ongoing gaps and progress
  • Investing in new training and education infrastructure to increase the supply of physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners
  • Introducing pan-Canadian licensure to make physicians more mobile – potentially easing pressure on rural and remote communities and allowing for more nimble crisis response, among other benefits
  • Scaling up virtual care and leveraging the promise of artificial intelligence to improve access to care

What’s missing is leadership and collaboration – between all levels of government, as well as with the health professionals and patients who live the current crisis every day.

In July, Dr. Smart attended the premiers’ meeting in Victoria, B.C., to press for action.

Heading into the fall, the CMA’s new president Dr. Alika Lafontaine – a passionate leader with a commitment to rebuilding health care for the next generation – will continue giving physicians a voice where it matters most.

There is no silver bullet for a crisis decades in the making. Tough decisions need to be made.

We will be at the table.


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