Stress growing for physicians as pandemic continues, say doctors’ groups

Doctors say they are feeling the stress of trying to provide quality care as the pandemic continues. (CBC)

Doctors in the province are facing the stress of trying to deliver quality care over the course of the pandemic, according to the associations that represent them.

Dr. Sonny Collis, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador College of Family Physicians, says they can’t deliver the same amount of care over the workday.

“A lot of us are either doing less, or we’re extending our workdays a little bit longer to get all those patients taken care of,” Collis told The St. John’s Morning Show on Monday.

Collis said shifting from in-person to largely online appointments has come with a steep learning curve, forcing medical professionals to change the way they provide care.

“Every physician practises differently,” he said. “We all feel like we’re all students again, learning how to develop care and deliver care in a new form.”

Dr. Danielle O’Keefe, chair of family medicine in Memorial University’s faculty of medicine, said others in her field are sharing similar feelings, facing burnout.

“Burnout is a risk any time when you’re overwhelmed with your clinical and academic work,” O’Keefe said. “Then you throw in a pandemic on top of that, with requirements to work in an environment that we are very unfamiliar with, and that everyone is unfamiliar with.”

“What you do one day might be different than the recommendations for how you do or provide the very same care the next day,” she added. “The pandemic’s required all of us to work in an ever-changing landscape.”

Collis said the stress that comes with a changing landscape can also bleed into life outside the practice, where added time in clinics and hospitals can impact other responsibilities.

“A lot of physicians are also parents and spouses and things like that,” he said. “A lot of people are having to adjust their day and work late into evenings to try to take over for those other personal responsibilities they have as well.”

“Like everybody through COVID, we’ve all had our physical and emotional challenges as well.”

Increased mental health calls consuming: NLMA

Dr. Lynette Powell, a physician in Grand Falls-Windsor and president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, said the rate of burnout is “much higher than we really understand.”

“A lot of physicians … try to work through the symptoms, because that’s the expectation that we’re all training with, that we have to keep going for the well-being of the health of other people,” Powell said.

“We’re not always super-attentive to our own needs. We sometimes make the worst patients.”

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, Dr. Lynette Powell, says increased mental health concerns from patients over the pandemic can take a mental toll on physicians. (CBC)

Powell said some of the stress for doctors is coming from an uptick in the number of mental health-related appointments as the pandemic drags on for some patients.

“There’s lots of days that I feel I need to spend an extra 10 to 15 to 20 minutes with a patient, because they need it that day,” she said. “But that ultimately puts me 10 to 15 to 20 minutes behind on the next patient,” she said

As more patients come forward with mental health concerns, she said it can often have a toll on the person on the other side as well.

“It’s hard watching the people you’re caring for in your practice suffer under these mental health concerns,” she said.

“We all train to do this, but at the end of the day we’re all human too. When you’re involved in other people’s lives to the extent that we are, it certainly has a mental toll.”

Powell asked for understanding from patients.

“We do our best on a day-to-day basis to make sure people get the best care that we can,” she said. “If your physicians are running late, it’s not because they’re having a coffee.… It’s probably because they’re behind because they had to take a little bit of extra time with another patient that day.”

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