Charlottetown doctor downsizes practice by dropping patients

Patients of a doctor in Charlottetown are dismayed after receiving a letter to say he will no longer be treating them.

'Doctors are extremely stressed out,' says medical society president

In a letter to patients, Dr. Mitchell Stewart says his workload has increased to the point where it is 'no longer manageable or sustainable.' (CBC)

Patients of a family physician in Charlottetown area are searching for alternatives after receiving letters that they had been randomly selected to be dropped from the doctor's patient list.  P.E.I.'s medical society calls it a symptom of an over-burdened health-care system.

"I was shocked. I had to read it twice," said Heather MacLean, who received a letter from her doctor last month. "Then my heart kind of went out to him too ... obviously he is feeling very stressed and burned out."

The letter, dated June 15, from Dr. Mitchell Stewart, included the doctor's candid assessment of his workload and personal stress levels.

"I inherited a very large practice ... I carry significantly over 2000 [patients]," wrote Stewart. "Over the past few years, the workload has increased steadily to the point where it is no longer manageable or sustainable ...

"The people around me who care about me are increasingly commenting on the toll that my work takes ... it is not acceptable for me to go home at the end of a long, busy day and not be emotionally available for my family ... if I do not make this change now and continue at the pace I am going, eventually I will burn out."

'It's a terrible situation for the patients involved and for the doctors as well," says Dr. Padraig Casey, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I. (CBC)

The letter informs patients that they were randomly selected and will continue to receive care until mid-August. Stewart  consulted Health P.E.I. and the Canadian Medical Protective Association, according to the letter. The CMPA provides insurance coverage to doctors.

The letter advises patients to register with the Department of Health to receive a new family doctor. More than 24,000 people are on the waiting list, which continues to grow, according to data on the province's website.

MacLean anticipates difficulty in seeing a doctor in the future.

"How would anyone feel to find out that if you're not well, you don't have any options except [hospital] emerg and walk-in clinics which are complete stressed to the max," said MacLean. "It's not a good feeling."

 The president of the Medical Society of P.E.I. calls it a "terrible situation" for patients and for doctors — the result of years of growing workload, and now culminating with pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic'

'Doctors are extremely stressed out and with any stressed out individual sometimes you do have to reduce your work," said Dr. Padraig Casey, president of the province's medical society. "Sometimes we do have to downsize to survive."

The medical society has seen an increase in doctors using counselling and training services provided by the society, according to Casey. Those services help doctors deal with stress and issues related to workload. Other programs also help doctors improve management and efficiency of their professional practices.

Long term, family doctors must move from "single-handed practices towards team bases practices," said Casey.

"Unless doctors change the way we practise ... it's really just like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Casey.

Health P.E.I. has said family doctors' offices will evolve toward group practices, but the process will take years.


Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting and print journalism in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.


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