One in four Canadian physicians report burnout

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New CMA survey provides key indicators on physician health

A survey by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) shows physician health is a growing concern within the medical profession in Canada. The CMA National Physician Health Survey: A National Snapshot is the first in a series of reports on the current state of physician health in the country. Overall, nearly 60 per cent of respondents reported good overall mental health. However, the survey highlights areas of concerns, including burnout, depression and suicidal ideation, with rates being higher among residents than physicians, and among women than men.

“Poor physician health not only affects physicians individually, but studies have shown it can have an impact on patient care,” says Dr. Gigi Osler, CMA president. “It’s important to shed light on areas where we can and must do better to support physicians, especially in the early years of their careers.”

Among the key findings:

  • High levels of resilience, but also high levels of burnout: The report revealed that while 82 per cent of physicians and residents reported high resilience, more than one in four reported high levels of burnout and one in three screened positive for depression, suggesting that the issue is broader than individual factors and extends to other systemic factors.
  • Medical residents more likely to report burnout and depression: Residents were 48 per cent more likely to report burnout and 95 per cent more likely to screen positive for depression than all other physician groups. By comparison, physicians in practice for 31 years or more reported the highest emotional, social and psychological well-being.
  • Gender differences: Like residents, women physicians were more likely to report burnout (23% higher) and screen positive for depression (32% higher). But they also reported higher emotional well-being (88%) and higher psychological well-being (82%) than their male counterparts.
  • Physicians reluctant to seek help: Despite 81 per cent of physicians and residents reporting being aware of the physician health services available to them, only 15 per cent reported accessing them in the last five years. Among the most cited reasons for not accessing these services were believing the situation was not severe enough and being ashamed to seek help.

Online learning—made for physicians

“Physician health and wellness must be treated both at the individual and system levels,” adds Dr. Osler. “It’s the combination of these factors that perpetuate the issue and this needs to be addressed.”

The CMA released an updated policy on physician health in December 2017 and will be hosting the International Conference on Physician Health in Toronto from October 11-13, in collaboration with the British Medical Association and the American Medical Association.