Nfld. & Labrador

Doctors meet in St. John's to discuss burnout amid a family physician shortage

About 300 physicians from across Canada are meeting in St. John’s to discuss ways to decrease burnout on the job. 

Report states one in four doctors face burnout, while up to 99,000 in N.L. lack a physician

Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald, head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, says it's great to have conversations about the well-being of physicians. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

As hundreds of residents in Newfoundland and Labrador scramble to find a family doctor, about 300 physicians and medical students from across Canada are meeting in St. John's to discuss ways to decrease burnout on the job. 

It's an issue that the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association says lots of doctors in the province are facing, especially with the current doctor shortage. About one in five in the province, as many as 99,000 people, don't have a family physician, according to the results of a telephone survey released in last month.

"What we are seeing is that physicians are describing more and more squeeze," said Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald, head of the province's medical association. "That leads to burnout and difficulties for physicians."

Fitzgerald said one of the largest points of stress for doctors is the inability to change the current health system, a system that she says is under immense stress. 

"That trickles down to pressure on our shoulders."

But she said conferences like the one in St. John's are providing ways to help combat some of that burnout. 

More than 300 doctors and medical students gather in St. John's to discuss burnout in the industry. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

St. John's family doctor Stephen Major attended the conference as both a participant and as an instructor. Major led a yoga class for the other physicians after getting into yoga about seven years ago following his own experience with burnout. 

He said the current doctor shortage is not helping alleviate any pressure on the backs of physicians.

"We are just really overwhelmed with the workload that we already have and then this new shortage … is making it even more difficult to do our job," said Major.

Dr. Stephen Major, a family physician in St. John's, held a yoga workshop during the conference to reduce stress. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Major said every day calls from desperate people who are trying to find a family doctor flood his office, and he doesn't believe that is going to get better anytime soon. 

The September telephone survey, which was done by Narrative Research and commissioned by the NLMA, found that 19 per cent of the province's residents relied on walk-in clinics, emergency rooms or general hospital intake to make up for the lack of a regular physician.

Major is nervous about what will happen to the well-being of doctors and residents in the province as the population ages, and he wants to see some improvement in the current medical system to combat some of those issues.

"We need to spend money to actually change the system. The government, I understand, is in a fiscally demanding situation but what we are spending the money on is on … catching up for all the things we are missing and we need to spend some money on the front end of the system."

One in four doctors reported issues with burnout, according to a study done by the Canadian Medical Association. 

The report said the key drivers of burnout are lack of resources and a dissatisfaction with their clinical environment. Another factor is being discontent with their work-life balance.

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