Canadian Medical Association

What’s impeding your ability to provide the best level of care to your patients? If we want to improve physician wellness, how does medical culture need to change?

These are some of the questions physicians and medical learners have been discussing at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) member forums. The one-day events, held in six cities across Canada, were an opportunity for the CMA to hear directly from members about its flagship issues: physician wellness and access to care.


At the Calgary forum in February, Dr. Debrah Wirtzfeld, a surgical oncologist and the associate chief medical officer for diversity, health and wellness for Alberta Health Services, explained that improving physician wellness has a lot to do with re-thinking how physicians practise.

“The medical system still supports the idea that physicians can work from the start of their career, to the end of their career, uninterrupted. There’s more than one way to provide good patient care, and we need to think about more flexible practice models.” - Dr. Debrah Wirtzfeld, Calgary member forum participant

Noam Raiter was also in Calgary, part of a large contingent of medical students who took part in the forum. She says hearing from physicians who have been practising for 10 or 20 years provided fresh insight into the wellness challenges in medicine.   

“As first-year medical students, we don’t talk much about what’s going to happen after medical school. Starting these conversations early and seeing it’s okay to take a step back, that you’re not a bad doctor because you’re concerned about your health and wellness, is a big part of improving physician health,” explained Ms. Raiter.

Expanding access to care was another key issue at the forums. Participants were asked to focus on delivery models, to think about who is delivering care and where, how patients interact with the system, and how care is being funded and coordinated. 

Dr. Oscar Larios, an infectious disease physician in Calgary, said he sees technology as an important tool in improving access. “Technology can close some of the gaps that exist – giving patients test results, helping practitioners make referrals – and we could also use technology to bring care to patients virtually.” 

More than 275 CMA members attended a member forum session in person. The final two forums, planned for London and Fredericton, were cancelled due to COVID-19, with members participating through the online platform.

CMA President Dr. Sandy Buchman says hearing first-hand from members has provided valuable insights into concrete ways the CMA can build its work.

“There’s a lot of wisdom in the room, and what’s really valuable is to tap into that wisdom and be able to consolidate it and carry it forward.” - Dr. Sandy Buchman, CMA president

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