Supporting physician wellness

Originally published November 2018

Wellness has become a critical topic among physicians. It’s an issue that cuts across region, gender, specialty, and age, and can affect any one of us at any time. A key element in supporting physicians is preventing and responding to burnout, and the CMPA is committed to addressing this issue among our membership.

The need for a collective response

Image of Dr. Katy Shufelt

Dr. Katy Shufelt
Peterborough, Ontario

As Canada’s largest physician organization, with 100,000 members across the country, we are actively advocating for a pan-Canadian effort to enhance physician wellness and address burnout.

During the CMPA’s recent Annual Meeting and Information Session, we described wellness as a "shared responsibility," and called on medical regulators, medical schools, and provincial and territorial medical associations and federations to look for innovative ways to improve physician well-being and reduce burnout.

Dr. Katy Shufelt, CMPA Councillor for Ontario, emphasizes the need for a collective response. "The fact that we have so many physicians across so many walks of life having the same problem tells you there must be something broken in the system itself. There needs to be a comprehensive response looking at the system physicians work in, or we’re not going to effect real change."

Physicians helping physicians

Since our inception in 1901, the CMPA has been built on the idea of "doctors helping doctors." This concept of mutuality is at the core of our assistance model, as it relates to civil litigation, help with College or hospital matters, and supporting colleagues in need.

Image of Dr. Darcy Johnson

Dr. Darcy Johnson
Winnipeg, Manitoba

We annually provide peer-to-peer advice and assistance to 30,000 physicians facing stress from medical-legal or other difficulties. Dr. Darcy Johnson, CMPA Councillor for Manitoba, notes how crucial this support is.

"Physicians who are stressed by legal claims or College or hospital matters are supported by our physician advisors at first contact. This support is critical, since the physician advisor is sometimes the only individual the doctor can confide in with respect to a very stressful problem."

The principle of mutuality, or "doctors helping doctors" can play an important role in the current crisis around physician wellness. While we need a collective response to burnout, we also need to help each other. If you see a colleague who you think is overwhelmed or experiencing too much stress, encourage him or her to seek assistance.

CMPA’s role

At the CMPA, recognizing the difficult circumstances facing our members and in keeping with our "doctors helping doctors" model, we are:

  • Training our physician advisors to more effectively recognize signs of stress and burnout when physicians call in, and providing our staff with more resources to assist members.
  • Developing a more complete picture of existing resources for physicians facing stress, burnout, or mental wellness issues, so we can better guide physicians to the most useful supports.
  • Leveraging our reach as a national organization and working with innovative programs across Canada to enhance awareness of helpful ideas and effective interventions.

We know the importance of local, readily accessible resources and we continue to advocate for effective physician health programs in each province and territory. Every doctor in the country, regardless of location, should have access to prompt and effective assistance to deal with wellness issues.

We encourage you to reach out to us when facing the strain of a College or hospital complaint, or other medical-legal event.

"Call us," says Councillor Katy Shufelt. "The physician advisor answering the phone knows what you’re going through, and many physicians across the country are experiencing the same thing as you are."

Additional resources

Learn how CMPA is empowering better healthcare