Pandemic worsened mental health among Sask. physicians: SMA survey

Doctors in the province say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey released by the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

MDs also concerned their expertise and advice has not been valued by government

Doctor with stethoscope.
Saskatchewan physicians say their mental health got worse in the last two years, according to a survey. (Kamon_Wongnon/Shutterstock)

Doctors in the province say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey released by the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

"The survey reflects what I have been hearing from many physicians – that they have been working harder during the pandemic and their mental health has suffered," SMA president Dr. Eben Strydom said in a news release.

"The results are worrisome. Physicians need supports now more than ever as the pandemic is still with us. Case numbers driven by COVID-19 variants continue to place strains on physicians and all health-care workers. Those strains are reflected in the survey results."

The SMA surveyed nearly 400 doctors in February and found that since 2020:

  • 49 per cent said their mental health was worse.
  • 17 per cent said their mental health was much worse.
  • 30 per cent said their mental health was about the same.

The physicians were also asked about pandemic-related issues and their subsequent level of concern:

  • 76 per cent said lack of physician's voice in the pandemic response.
  • 60 per cent said health-care needs of patients with non-COVID issues.
  • 43 per cent said concern for their own or their family's safety and health.

"Physicians feel their expertise and advice has not been valued during the pandemic," Strydom said. "Health leaders should listen to physicians, implement policies and procedures that provide optimal care for both their COVID and non-COVID patients, strengthen channels of communication, and foster collegiality among health care workers."

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said their medical practice is less satisfying than usual, while 54 per cent said they would reduce clinical hours over the next two years.

Premier says government concerned by survey results

Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday that the mental health of health-care workers is a concern.

"We do have concerns with respect to the physician survey. It's been an extremely challenging two years for each of us as individuals, for us in our careers. We've changed virtually how we do everything each and every day," Moe said.

The premier said the province has a long-term plan to recruit and retain health-care workers, including physicians.

"What we are trying to do in the short term is to augment and to support our health-care workers in any way we can by bringing in a number of contract nurses in facilities across this province. "

Moe said the government is looking at ways it can keep local graduates in the province beyond the grad retention program and medical health professional incentives, "to ensure that we're keeping more of those Saskatchewan often born, raised, but obviously trained medical professionals right here in and providing those services to Saskatchewan people."

He said the recruiting and retention issue is a "challenge" facing all Canadian provinces.

When it comes to physicians saying their voices were not heard during the pandemic, Moe said his government did listen and also sought expertise from Dr. Saqib Shahab along with senior officials in the Saskatchewan Health Authority and within the Ministry of Health.

Opposition Leader Ryan Meili raised the physician's survey during Wednesday's question period.

"Nearly two-thirds of doctors saying their mental health is worse or much worse than it was two years ago. These are really discouraging numbers," Meili said after question period.

"These are folks that we really need to be on the job and doing well. Instead, they're talking about reducing their numbers, leaving the profession. And who knows how many are thinking about leaving the province?"

Meili said he believes doctor retention is a bigger issue in Saskatchewan than elsewhere in Canada and that it is linked to the government's pandemic handling. He pointed to the survey results and to physicians ranking their lack of voice in the pandemic response as a top concern.

"I'm hearing this is a Saskatchewan-specific issue and the reason is the disrespect that doctors received throughout the pandemic has been particularly striking in this province," Meili said.