PEI

How P.E.I. doctors are coping with burnout

Health PEI is concerned with Island doctors burning out, and it's trying to do more to keep it from happening.

'We know that if our staff are not healthy, their patients are not going to be healthy'

Dr. Douglas Carmody says he feels better after achieving a more positive work-life balance. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Dr. Douglas Carmody says he was working 50 or 60 hours a week at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside, seeing a large volume of patients with complex issues, and found himself becoming cynical and despondent about the health-care system.

He decided to take a step back before he fell victim to a growing concern on P.E.I. — physician burnout.

"While I was providing good patient care, I sensed that if I kept up in this road it probably would lead to the problem that physicians who incur burnout have," he said.

"They don't provide as efficient, safe, effective care and the cost can go up, quality can go down and it can be a big system issue. So I decided to take a break for awhile and reorganize myself to try and make sure I wasn't going to go well down that road."

Health PEI doesn't want to see doctors go down that road either, and is trying to do more to keep it from happening.

Dr. André Celliers, executive director of medical affairs and legal services for Health PEI, says the department has been working to make sure all doctors get enough time off. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Dr. André Celliers, executive director of medical affairs and legal services for Health PEI, says they talk to physicians on a daily basis.

"Even though somebody might not specifically mention that they are experiencing burnout we can see when they are being overwhelmed, we can see some of the other things when they interact with their colleagues, when they interact with their patients."

Physician health program

Celliers says the department has been working to make sure all doctors get enough time off. It's moving toward team-based practices where doctors can cover each other if they're away.

It has also established a physician health program that provides support for doctors experiencing burnout.

"The health and wellness of our staff is paramount. We know that if our staff are not healthy, their patients are not going to be healthy."

Dr. Kris Saunders, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I., says doctors are trained to look after others, but not necessarily themselves. (CBC)

Dr. Kris Saunders,  president of the Medical Society of P.E.I., says burnout is not just about working long hours without a break, it's also about the stress doctors experience during those hours and how they see it affect their job.

"For some, it's been described as the inability to see patients as people but more as problems and things, and that's not how we're trained and that's not how we go into the job," he said.

Saunders said doctors are trained to look after others, but not necessarily themselves. He said it's hard for physicians to sit down with their colleagues and admit they are struggling, especially in a small place like P.E.I. where "everyone knows who you are."

"It's hard to be the unknown physician with a problem," he said. 

Help with recruitment and retention

That's why some doctors on P.E.I. who struggle with burnout take advantage of a system where they can reach out to doctors in B.C. for help.

"To be able to reach out to somebody across the country to get care really speaks volumes. There's been quite an uptake in people reaching out to that health system."

Saunders said P.E.I. is already a wonderful place to live, and making the workplace environment positive and productive "would speak volumes for how much we care about physician health."

"It would also go to great lengths to help with recruitment and retention of physicians. When you're able to recruit and retain you have an adequate workforce so that the burden doesn't all fall on one or two people."

Carmody, meanwhile, said he feels better after changing his workload to achieve a better work-life balance. He hopes others can find a way to do the same.

"I took some time off, worked on my health, exercised, eating better, building relationships with my family so it's been very positive for me."

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With files from Nicole Williams and Island Morning

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