Medical society says national findings on doctor burnout are true for N.B.

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Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said the continued stress on doctors can lead to burnout and fatigue. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said the continued stress on doctors can lead to burnout and fatigue. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Results of a national survey suggesting significant levels of stress, burnout and depression among doctors in Canada also reflect what's happening in New Brunswick, the medical society says.

More than half the doctors and medical students who took part in the 2021 National Physicians Health Survey said they experienced high levels of burnout, and nearly half are considering reducing their clinical work in the next 24 months.

The Canadian Medical Association released results of the survey this week.

"We've been through a very stressful time, as have all New Brunswickers, through the pandemic," Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said Thursday.

"But you know, we show up every day to work and we continue to care for our patients, but we're humans as well and stress does build up."

Consistent with provincial surveys

MacMillan said the stress can lead to burnout and fatigue.

The medical society has done its own surveys, he said, and the figures for burnout and doctors who might reduce  their clinical work are on par with the national results.

More than 4,000 doctors and medical students across Canada were surveyed in November 2021. Six in 10 physicians and residents indicated their mental health was worse than before the pandemic.

These concerns have no easy answer, MacMllan said, but a few things could be done.

"We do need to see some further investments in health care as well, so that, you know, we can have our patients be seen more efficiently moving through the system faster, getting the procedures done," he said.

MacMillan also brought up the possibility of practising differently as doctors. He pointed to collaborative group practices as an example, saying they might reduce the workload for doctors and give them the support of nearby peers.


He said it is stressful when patients return with the same medical issues, and doctors can't help because of a system backlog.

"So fixing those issues will help with mental health for physicians as well."

MacMillan said another concern for him is the potential for more private clinics, which has been the subject of speculation since some comments earlier this week by Premier Blaine Higgs.

At a news conference Tuesday, Higgs said he wasn't ruling out private-sector delivery of health care as a potential fix for some of New Brunswick's health-care problems.

"All options are on the table to understand what are best practices, not only throughout our country but in other countries," Higgs said.

MacMillan said if private clinics were added to the system, he would be concerned about finding the people to staff them and the impact on other health services.

"The main issue from our perspective is that we're currently having a major issue keeping our public system working appropriately," he said.

MacMillan called for targeted investments to address the human resource crisis and problems in the public system. Once the public system is working appropriately, then there's the possibility of looking at publicly funded private clinics.

"There are currently private clinics, which are operating in New Brunswick, publicly funded, and have been providing amazing care and excellent care over the number of years," said MacMillan. These clinics were set up pre-pandemic before the "horrible crisis."

"While those are functioning and doing well, adding more in right now will be a challenge."

Doctors carry on

MacMillan said New Brunswickers can count on doctors to continue to show up and provide care day after day.

He said when the society talks about more funding for heath care, it's not talking about higher pay for doctors.

"What we're talking about is finding a way to increase the resources available for the physician and our nursing colleagues and other colleagues in health care to provide that care."

He said some of these issues can be fixed in the short term, using a broken machine as an example.

"That slows the system down because that machine breaks down on a regular basis," MacMillan said.

"That's a targeted investment that we can do … and then we have more people moving through the system."