Two-thirds of Vancouver hospital physicians feeling burnt-out, survey says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A recent B.C. survey has found two-thirds of internal medicine physicians are feeling burnt out.

The University of British Columbia study was conducted from August to October of last year, before the second and third waves of the pandemic in Canada. It included 302 physicians working at  Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital.

Characterized by emotional exhaustion and de-personalization, burnout is most often an occupational syndrome. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, increased anxiety and feeling numb.

“We asked people if they had considered quitting, or if they had quit a position. About one-in-five physicians said that they had either quit a position or were considering quitting,” says research lead Dr. Nadia Khan.

While some surveys conducted in the U.S. and Europe showed rates of burnout between 30 to 50 per cent before the pandemic, the UBC survey, conducted during the pandemic, showed the rate at 68 per cent.

“Certainly, it’s very suspicious and concerning that the pandemic has contributed to the burnout, but it was in fact already present and rising before then.”

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Khan says that while resignations can be one effect of burnout, care of patients can also be impacted.

“Burnout is associated with job turnover and early retirement, and also the quality of care. So we know that physicians who are burnt out are much more likely to make medical errors.”

The survey found that burnout was more prevalent among women. Seventy-one per cent of the female respondents reported experiencing emotional exhaustion, compared to 64 per cent of men.

“Women physicians in general, carry more what we call invisible labour. Most women in Canada have had to take on more parenting responsibilities or childcare responsibilities.”

Khan says the survey reveals  a sustainable health care system needs to be created.

“I think that that responsibility is a shared responsibility between the government, the hospitals, the health authorities, and physicians to start working on solutions to improve the quality of work conditions. And try to reduce the number of hours and eliminate these sorts of untenable work conditions.”

According to the survey, physician burnout is estimated to cost the Canadian health care system over $200 million in long term losses.

– With files from Bethlehem Mariam

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