Burnout, long waitlists concern Yukon Medical Association

Whitehorse General Hospital. Physician burnout and growing wait times for care were common themes at the Yukon Medical Association's annual meeting this weekend in Whitehorse. (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC - image credit)
Whitehorse General Hospital. Physician burnout and growing wait times for care were common themes at the Yukon Medical Association's annual meeting this weekend in Whitehorse. (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC - image credit)

Physician burnout and growing wait times for care were common themes at the Yukon Medical Association's annual meeting this weekend in Whitehorse.

The three-day meeting wrapped up on Sunday at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

On Friday, health-care workers heard from Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee as well as Dr. Kathleen Ross, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

Ross spoke to members of the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) about the ongoing challenges facing Canada's health-care system, including unprecedented levels of burnout, years-long surgery wait times, and the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leslie Amminson
Leslie Amminson

"The pressure from our past and our current circumstances aren't going away anytime soon," Ross said. "And we know that physicians want to step back, rest and recover from the experiences that they've had."

Ross said close to 50 per cent of physicians reported wanting to take a step back and reduce their clinical hours, according to a recent survey carried out by the CMA.

Those numbers were worrisome, Ross said, at a time when hospitals across the country are overburdened and Canadians are facing increasingly long wait times for some services.

Growing surgery wait times

Those wait times were brought up at the YMA meeting during time allotted for questions with McPhee.

"We're currently struggling to keep up with giving Yukoners the surgical services that they need," Dr. Alexander Poole, a surgeon in the territory, told McPhee.

Leslie Amminson
Leslie Amminson

McPhee pointed to significant population growth in the territory, suggesting an influx of new residents had put some strain on existing infrastructure. She also said she wanted to work with the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the YMA to make sure she hears their concerns.

At another point in the meeting, McPhee noted there's work underway to create a health authority in the territory, but that legislation isn't expected to be completed until at least 2024. The Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that doesn't currently have a health authority.

Attraction package for new physicians

The territory is also struggling to attract and retain health-care professionals. Speaking to reporters, outgoing YMA president Dr. Ryan Warshawski noted that around 3,000 Yukoners don't have a family doctor.

He pointed to a recent agreement between the YMA and the Yukon government, which includes an attraction and attachment package for physicians. The package covers relocation costs — including flights, moving expenses and the cost of obtaining a medical license for the Yukon. It also covers some overhead costs for doctors opening their own practices in the territory.

Warshawski said he hopes the agreement will help doctors coming to the territory overcome some common barriers.

"We are working very hard to substantially reduce the financial barriers that exist to primary care, and hopefully attract and keep people in that very needed line of work," Warshawski said. "Time will tell whether or not we're successful on that."

The new agreement also includes incentives for doctors in the territory to take on more patients, but Warshawski said it would remain to be seen whether they have the capacity to do that. He said the YMA was conducting a survey to determine how much of a problem burnout is for physicians in the territory.

"We can provide incentives," he said. "But the reality is, people have to be in a mental place where they're actually able to do the work."