A doctor on the Burin Peninsula is feeling the burnout — and she's not the only one

A recent study by the Canadian Medical Association shows more than half of Canada's doctors are burnt out.

Stacey Saunders says burnout made her less empathetic and she worried it was affecting her work

Stacey Saunders is a family doctor on the Burin Peninsula. (Submitted by Stacey Saunders)

A doctor on the Burin Peninsula has been battling burnout and believes she's not the only one in the province feeling the burn.

"I bet that there's a lot of doctors out there in the same boat, and probably a little bit reluctant to get help," said Stacey Saunders, who has been a family physician for nearly 16 years.

As doctors we're fixers, we want to fix it all. And sometimes you just can't.- Stacey Saunders

"We can't help anybody if we don't help ourselves."

A recent study by the Canadian Medical Association found that over half the doctors in the country are suffering from burnout, with causes ranging from too much paperwork and bad policy to female doctors not having enough help with children and household chores.

The numbers spoke to Saunders.

She said she's been struggling with many of burnout's symptoms: not wanting to get out of bed and go to work, feeling a lack of empathy, being curt with patients and co-workers, and even bringing the feelings and behaviours home to her family. 

No quick fixes in health care

Saunders said she had to take a step back form her work — she normally works in the emergency room in addition to her private practice, and had to stop those shifts to make room to take care of herself and seek help from a counsellor.

"As doctors we're fixers. We want to fix it all. And sometimes you just can't," she told CBC's On the Go. "It just gets overwhelming."

A recent study found more than half of Canada's doctors are experiencing burnout.

She thinks burnout and those feelings of helplessness is probably more prevalent for emergency room doctors.

People arrive in an emergency room expecting immediate results, she said — often for problems that have been building for years and require complicated, lengthy solutions.

"While most patients are appreciative, others are very demanding, and I've seen these demands increase over the past few years," she said. 

Saunders attributes the increasing expectation of quick fixes to the nature of today's society — we often have everything we want and the answers to all of our questions at our fingertips, she said.

"Everything needs to be immediate, and it's just not like that in health care … we can't do it all with one visit."

Concerning for quality of care

Her burnout symptoms got to the point where she was concerned about her quality of work, she said.

"I have noticed my empathy really drop, and I feel as a doctor, if you aren't empathetic then you can't do a good job."

Medical-care providers need to be aware of the symptons so their quality of work is not affected, says Saunders.

She says doctors need to be aware of their own limits and symptoms of burnout, because their own work could be affected.

"We all do our best, we all make mistakes, we're only human, but I think if you're tired and burnt out, the chances of that happening are definitely higher," she said.

"And that only adds more stress on the whole situation."

She said doctors feeling like they're struggling with burnout should seek counselling and try as hard as they can to cut back on their workload.

But here in Newfoundland, she said, even that can be stressful.

"There's only so many resources in the province, and only so much money. We all need more doctors," she said.

"It's hard to get that balance."

With files from On The Go