Nova Scotia

Physician burnout 'a serious issue' in Nova Scotia, survey suggests

Nova Scotia's main doctors' group has surveyed the job satisfaction of its members and concluded "burnout is a serious issue among Nova Scotia physicians."

Doctors Nova Scotia concludes best remedy is improved relationship with Health Authority, government

Dr. Manoj Vohra, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said survey results show that burnout is a serious issue among physicians in the province. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's main doctors group has surveyed the job satisfaction of its members and concluded "burnout is a serious issue among Nova Scotia physicians." 

The president of Doctors Nova Scotia, Dr. Manoj Vohra, called the results "alarming but not surprising." He pointed to the current working conditions as a key factor that has contributed to doctors feeling chronically exhausted, cynical and overextended.

"There's a lot of patients without family doctors, more complicated patients and there's less ability to get away for even a break because we don't have any resources to support us, whether it's maternity leave or vacation."

Need for improved relationships

Although beefed up resources would help, he said the answer is an improved relationship between doctors, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the provincial government.

That's because, according to the survey, many doctors felt the government and the health authority did not respect their professional authority as doctors.

"It's important for the health authority and the government to understand that this is one of the most important factors in delivering great health care, is to have an engaged frontline workforce including doctors, nurses, all of our health-care providers," said Vohra. "And that we should really listen and want to include them in decision-making."

Until recently, the health authority kept tight control over where new doctors could practise. That tight rein, as well as the recent contract negotiation between Doctors Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia government, have soured the relationship between doctors and those who regulate their work.

Health authority agrees burnout an issue

But Lynne Harrigan, the senior health authority executive responsible for medical staffing, said doctors are already well represented on planning committees.

"As part of our health services planning, doctors are at every single table," she said. "In fact, doctors are 50 percent of the membership of all the tables for planning for health services, so we are there.

"The more physician involvement, the better as far as we're concerned."

Harrigan didn't dispute the claim that burnout was a serious issue in Nova Scotia. She said the issue involves a number of factors

"The first thing is to recognize that physicians are subject to burnout, there's no question about that," she said. "That physicians are overworked. Physicians are stressed and so you have to look individually at the cause for burnout and also if there is a systematic problem for burnout, we have to address that as well." 

Low response rate

The survey was emailed to 2,287 physicians on Feb. 27, 2017. They had three weeks to respond. Only 16 per cent of recipients, or 372 people, did so.

Vohra suggested cynicism and exhaustion also may have played a factor in the response rate.

"A lot of people just don't have time to respond to studies," said Vohra. "At the end of a long day, I think a majority of people would sort of say, 'What's it going to matter? What's going to change?'" 

Doctors Nova Scotia shared the survey results Monday with the province and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The authority has been contacted but has not yet responded to CBC News.