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Montréal meeting on MD health sets records

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When CMA President Anna Reid was asked to describe the turnout for the AMA-CMA-BMA International Conference on Physician Health in Montréal in October, she only needed one word: "Unprecedented."

By Mr. Pat Rich

When CMA President Anna Reid was asked to describe the turnout for the AMA-CMA-BMA International Conference on Physician Health in Montréal in October, she only needed one word: "Unprecedented."

The "more-than-sold-out" Oct. 25-27 meeting attracted over 400 physicians from around the world 25 per cent more than attended the same conference in Chicago two years ago. "I think," said Reid, "that physician health is finally getting the attention it deserves.

"The attendance here is one more sign that we are openly acknowledging the critical need to promote, preserve and manage the health and wellness of physicians."

As the conference's opening-day speakers made clear, such attention is warranted. Not only do physicians suffer a degree of burnout that is unique among professionals, they said, but their suicide rate far exceeds the rate found in the general population it is 40 per cent higher than among age-matched males, and 130 per cent higher than among age-matched females.

The conference, which is held every two years, also demonstrated how the focus within the physician health field has shifted from a concentration on individual doctors with substance abuse or other problems to a more general concern about helping to maintain the health and well-being of the profession as a whole. Speakers also pointed out that healthy physicians are more likely to encourage healthy lifestyles in their patients, and that stressed physicians are more likely to jeopardize patient safety.

Reid opened the meeting by promoting the establishment of Canada's new Canadian Physician Health Institute, a partnership between the CMA and the Canadian Medical Foundation, which was the major sponsor of this year's meeting in Montréal. Reid said the new institute will develop a pan-Canadian approach to offer access to all physicians needing health services, regardless of location.

"I know from first-hand experience the immense stresses that physicians in rural and remote places can face," said Reid, a family/emergency physician in Yellowknife. "They often work with inadequate professional support and limited diagnostic facilities. I also know that these challenges are not unique to rural practice, nor are they unique to Canadian physicians."

Opening remarks were also delivered by American Medical Association President Jeremy Lazarus, Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the British Medical Association, Quebec Medical Association President Ruth Vander Stelt, and Dr. Serge Lenis, head of the Quebec Physicians' Health Program.

"We know that if physicians adopt a healthier lifestyle, be it increased physical activity, eating better, losing weight, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake, they will be more likely to raise these issues with patients when they are doing the history and physical," said Lazarus. "So for the sake of ourselves and our patients, let's be good role models."

Lazarus also noted that stress is nothing new for American physicians, but they now face unique pressures because of the degree of change the US health care system is undergoing. "Anything that interferes with the connection between doctor and patient hurts the profession," he said. "We can't just tell doctors to grin and bear it - we need to better understand what's actually happening."

"The physician health issue is not discussed enough in public," added Vander Stelt, who noted that while there are many challenges, recognition of these problems doesn't automatically suggest a solution.

In his keynote address, Dr. Tait Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic reviewed recent evidence showing the significant impact burnout has on physicians and suggested ways deal with the issue. In August, Shanafelt published results from a survey that drew responses from 7,288 American physicians in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and they showed that 45.8 per cent of respondents reported at least one symptom of burnout. – CMA News



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