■ Physician wellness:

Coping with the stress of medical practice

Let’s talk about it: Supporting colleagues through medico-legal challenges

Two men talking over coffee

3 minutes

Published: February 2024

The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing

The CMPA helps physician members to navigate medico-legal matters. Sometimes, we hear from physicians who are looking for advice – not about their own medico-legal concerns, but about providing support to a colleague who is distressed by medico-legal challenges or proceedings.

Here is our guidance for physicians who want to provide that emotional support to their peers without impacting medico-legal risk.

Support matters

Medico-legal issues can be isolating and distressing. There is a stigma surrounding regulatory authority (College) complaints, hospital complaints, and investigations, and it makes some physicians very reluctant to share with others about the challenges they encounter.

This sense of shame can be even stronger for residents and early-career physicians who are still forming their professional identity, as they might have a fragile sense of professional confidence and security.

Though these conversations are difficult, they can make a difference regarding a physician’s mental health. Collegial support can be very meaningful in these circumstances.

A responsible conversation

While talking to a colleague about medico-legal issues can contribute to emotional well-being, there are privacy and confidentiality implications with these kinds of peer-to-peer conversations.

Even if a patient has commenced a medico-legal proceeding against the physician, the duty of confidentiality and applicable privacy legislation, College policies and institutional policies generally prohibit the sharing of patient information without consent or other legal authority.

Any physician talking about ongoing medico-legal challenges must also be careful not to compromise the medico-legal process. It might be necessary for the physician experiencing challenges to speak in generalities – for instance, sharing that they are the subject of a College complaint or case that is distressing them, and providing no further detail. Though this approach might make it more challenging for meaningful support to be provided, it reflects the sensitive nature of these kinds of conversations.

We are here for members

A physician who is distressed by medico-legal risk might benefit from a reminder about the CMPA and the work it does for members. Each year, the CMPA responds to over 23,000 advice calls from physicians. Our team of more than 45 physician advisors provide empathetic support and expert guidance to help members handle specific medico-legal and patient safety challenges in their practice.

CMPA members can feel safe to fully discuss their situation with a CMPA physician advisor and, if applicable, the lawyer assigned to their case.

Additional resources

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.