Canadian Medical Association

To alleviate high rates of burnout, depression and stress in the medical profession, physicians may need to engage patients and people from other industries to help them recognize what’s broken and to ‘see’ ways to create a new medical culture.

Examining the culture of medicine with fresh eyes was a key theme at the third and final session in the 2021 CMA Health Summit series, titled “Thriving in a reimagined culture of medicine: What does it mean to be “healthy”?” Hundreds of physicians, medical learners, policy makers and patients took part in the Aug. 22 virtual event.

“It’s time to commit to making changes to medical culture, to prioritize physical and mental well-being and embrace equity and diversity.” – Dr. Sandy Buchman, CMA past president

Speakers from 2021 CMA Health Summit session 3
Clockwise: Althia Raj, Dr. Sandy Buchman, Dr. Jillian Horton, Michelle Hamilton-Page, Dr. Aditi Amin

Keynote speaker Dr. Jillian Horton, a general internist and author based in Winnipeg, described how medical students and doctors are often so immersed in their learning and work environments, they struggle to see clearly and become conditioned to think medical culture is unchangeable.

“Forget the stories of the great ways in which the toxic elements of this culture shaped you,” said Dr. Horton. “Instead, ask a new question – ‘How do we start again?’”

During a panel discussion, moderated by journalist Althia Raj, occupational medicine expert Dr. Aditi Amin addressed some of those toxic workplace elements, from harassment and intimidation to administrative burden, to barriers to seeking help for physical and mental health challenges. She highlighted opportunities to learn from other industries – like law enforcement and aviation – to create safe, inclusive and health promoting environments in medicine.

“For example, their standards could help guide us when it comes to making improvements to how we approach physical safety with respect to duty hours and fatigue risk management.” said Dr. Amin.

Patients can also be strong allies when it comes to building a culture of physician wellness. Panellist and patient advocate Michelle Hamilton-Page reinforced the role patients can play in helping doctors create safe spaces that foster equity, diversity and inclusion.

“We are in this together,” she said. “People with lived experience, caregivers and the public are part of your wellness community.”

After a 30-minute question and answer period, summit participants joined breakout sessions on transforming medical culture, including how to foster physical, cultural and psychological safety in medical work and training environments, destigmatize the need for doctors to access physical and mental health resources, and better accommodate and reflect diversity in the medical profession.

In closing the session, CMA Past President Dr. Sandy Buchman told participants that their ideas, and those from Health Summit sessions in May and June, will inform the CMA’s future work, including its advocacy during the federal election campaign to ensure physicians’ voices are heard.

The 2021 CMA Health Summit series explored what is needed to reshape health outcomes, the health system and medical culture. Insights from all three sessions will be published in a report in September.


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