p h y s i c i a n w e l l n e s s
Montréal meeting on MD health sets records
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
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
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
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'
"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. –