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Nova Scotia doctors facing high risk of burnout

Dr. Manoj Vohra is the new president of Doctors Nova Scotia.
Dr. Manoj Vohra is the new president of Doctors Nova Scotia.

HALIFAX, N.S. – Physicians are facing a serious risk of burnout according to new survey results released this week by Doctors Nova Scotia.

Of the 372 doctors surveyed, 50 per cent reported experiencing symptoms of burnout and another 20 per cent are feeling ineffective on the job. Burnout impairs doctors’ abilities to work, with negative results for patient care and safety.

“These statistics are a major cause for concern and we need to do something about it immediately,” said Dr. Manoj Vohra, President of Doctors Nova Scotia, in a release. “The state of the physician workforce in Nova Scotia at present is fragile. I believe we all have a role to play in getting things on track.”

Compared to a 2008 national sample of physicians by the Canadian Medical Association, these survey findings show Nova Scotia doctors are both less engaged and overstretched.

They also scored higher on exhaustion and cynicism, feeling a lack of respect for their professional expertise and independence from both the province and Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Other issues raised by doctors included administrative hassles, financial concerns, uncompensated work, billing problems and constraints on physician autonomy.

The 2017 survey results were gleaned when Doctors Nova Scotia partnered with Dr. Michael Leiter and the Centre for Organizational Research and Development at Acadia University, to study the work-life issues facing Nova Scotia physicians.

The Physician Burnout Survey measured factors critical to physician wellbeing, including work engagement, workload and fairness.

Dr. Leiter’s research found that burnout among Nova Scotia physicians is systemic and related to the basic organization of work, which is outside doctors’ control, rather than to personal failings regarding inadequate self-care or poor work practices.

“Our province is already experiencing a physician shortage and these systemic issues will make it even more difficult to attract and retain doctors,” said Vohra.

He worked for a time in Westville, helping him understand the pressures faced by doctors in rural communities, many of whom feel overwhelmed by big workloads.

Doctors Nova Scotia says it is offering more support to physicians in local communities.

Starting this fall, doctors in each zone of the province will have a dedicated Doctors Nova Scotia representative in their community.


These representatives will provide practice supports and will help doctors connect with each other, navigate the system, influence decisions in their communities and work with Nova Scotia Health Authority recruiters to enhance recruitment efforts. They will also link doctors with the resources and supports available at Doctors Nova Scotia.

In addition, the association will work with the Section of Primary Care Physicians Representative Council and other physician leaders through the Physician Leadership and Development Program to address the causes of burnout.

“We’ve reorganized our work so that we can offer more on-the-ground support to physicians in communities across the province,” said Vohra.

The NSHA said in an emailed statement the “report confirms that we have work to do to improve.”

Spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe said more than 85 per cent of survey respondents were family doctors.

She added newer doctors especially told the NSHA they did not want solo practices with large workloads and poor work-life balances, which influenced the ongoing rollout of collaborative care practices in Nova Scotia.

The province’s vision of collaborative care practices are teams of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses and others offering a “one stop shop” for patient care in one location.

“It not only benefits patients by providing consistent access to a team of health professionals, but offers doctors a more rewarding and manageable way to practice without feeling solely responsible for their patients’ care, or unable to be away from their practices,” said Lipscomb

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