Canadian Medical Association

Needing to be at work while ill, inefficient workplace practices, and poor work-life balance are some of the predictors of burnout amongst Canadian physicians, according to new research released today by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

The report, Physician Health and Wellness in Canada: Connecting behaviours and occupational stressors to psychological outcomes, provides an in-depth look at occupational and behavioral factors that may be linked to burnout, depression and other wellness factors.

“This data confirms the shift that is already taking place, to not only consider what individuals can do on their own to improve their wellness, but to also consider the system-level factors that need to change.” - Dr. Caroline Gérin-Lajoie, Vice-president of physician health and wellness

It is hoped this data can be used by hospitals and other health care institutions to target key areas for action to improve physician health and wellness.

Building on the work of the 2018 National Physician Health Survey, which surveyed more than 3,000 physicians and residents, the report looked at both physician behaviours and occupational indicators, and their links to wellness.

Physician behavior highlights:

  • Respondents worked an average of 48 hours a week, with those on-call averaging an additional 111 hours every month 
  • Residents worked an average of 58 hours a week, excluding on-call hours
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) did not have regular access to a personal physician

Occupational indicator highlights:

  • 53% of respondents were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the efficiency and resources in their workplace
  • 38% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their work-life integration
  • 28% reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with workplace control and flexibility
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) went into work five or more times, in the previous year, while feeling physically ill or distressed

After analyzing these results against seven psychological indicators, the report reveals a strong connection between occupational indicators and physician burnout, depression and personal well-being. 

It concludes, “Although some targeted initiatives to promote physician health are effective (e.g., resilience training)……greater emphasis to improve the occupational factors within the practice environment is needed.” 

This conclusion mirrors the CMA’s policy on physician health, which calls on governments, health care employers and other stakeholders to work together on system-level solutions to support physician health and wellness.  

It’s also the focus of its October conference, the Canadian Conference on Physician Health. Held in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the conference theme is “Shifting cultures and creating safe spaces” and is focused on promoting more supportive practice and training environments for physicians.  

“I think the challenge now is to actually make changes in our working environments,” explains Dr. Caroline Gérin-Lajoie. “The other challenge is to change our culture.”

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