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October 24, 2022

Family physicians are the foundation of Canada’s health care system and trusted partners to their patients. Increasing service demands, growing patient complexity, and other challenges are resulting in many family physicians feeling overextended and burnt out. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one third of family physicians were already burnt out1 and the same challenges, exacerbated by the pandemic, are resulting in a crisis.2

Over 60 per cent of family physicians have indicated worsening mental health since the onset of the pandemic, attributed to increased workload, a lack of work-life balance, and other challenges.3 A survey of College of Family Physicians of Canada™ (CFPC) members revealed that almost half were either exhausted or burnt out4 while another survey by the Canadian Medical Association indicated that over half of family physicians are burnt out.3 As a result, over half of family physicians report being likely to reduce or modify their clinical hours,3 and some are retiring early or simply leaving the profession.5,6

In addition to the exodus of physicians, fewer medical students are choosing family medicine.7 This is happening at a time when almost five million people in Canada do not have a regular family physician, the population is ageing and patients’ needs are becoming more complex,8 and hospitals across the country are struggling to keep their emergency rooms operating.9 Left unchecked, burnout will continue to compromise the viability of the health work force stretched beyond its capacity.

The CFPC advocates for supports that improve the well-being of family physicians:
  • In 2022 the CFPC partnered with the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association to provide policy recommendations to the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) to address the crisis in health human resources:
    • Commit $300 million to a federal fund to improve the well-being of health care workers through access to administrative and mental health supports
    • Address the administrative burden through a new health workers support fund to improve the well-being of providers and support retention
    • Establish a long-term Pan-Canadian Mental Health Strategy for Healthcare Workers
  • In 2022 the CFPC testified to the HESA on two occasions to address the crisis in health and human resources in Canada, on April 4th and May 9th, focusing on calls to reduce administrative burden for family physicians
  • In 2022 the CFPC submitted a series of recommendations to inform the federal government’s 2022 budget
    • The CFPC publicly challenged the federal government for the lack of tangible investments into shortages of family physicians in Budget 2022
  • The CFPC has been consistently using the Patient’s Medical Home (PMH) vision to guide decision makers on how to structure a primary health care system that improves access to care and provider satisfaction and well-being:
    • In 2021 the CFPC called for support alongside other health care providers for a Primary Health Transition Fund to fix health care’s front door by bringing together health professionals as a team
  • The CFPC advocates for national licensure, in part, to help address staffing disparities across jurisdictions through increased locum availability  so family physicians can have the flexibility to take time away from practice
The CFPC will continue to make physician wellness a priority in its advocacy to the federal government on behalf of its members, to implement short- and long-term actions to ease the burden on front-line family physicians, and to support practice environments in which they can work well and be well.

Short-term actions include:
  • Establishing a time-limited fund to incentivize retention of family physicians
  • Providing administrative support to primary care health teams
Long-term actions include:
  • Consistent, deliberate action to increase supply, and to enhance capacity with a focus on underserviced settings and populations
  • A robust provincial and national data strategy to better understand and consider providers’ scope of practice and career trajectories
  • Sustain and expand practice environments that are good for patients and providers, including the implementation of team-based, patient-centred care modeled after the CFPC’s vision of the Patient’s Medical Home

1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA National Physician Health Survey – A National Snapshot. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Medical Association; 2018. Accessed October 11, 2022.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Physician burnout nearly doubles during pandemic [news release]. Ottawa, ON: ; 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.
3 Canadian Medical Association. National Physician Health Survey 2021. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Medical Association; 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.
4 College of Family Physicians of Canada, Nanos. In-person care currently available to book with over nine in ten CFPC physicians; almost one in two of those say it is available with no restrictions. [PowerPoint slides]; 2021. Accessed October 11, 2022.
5 Statistics Canada. Experiences of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, September to November 2021. Accessed October 11, 2022.
6 Canadian Medical Association. The ‘Great Resignation’ comes to medicine [podcast]. March 31, 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.
7 McKeen A. 99 family doctor jobs have been left empty in Canada’s yearly hiring of medical graduates. Toronto Star. May 16, 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.
8 Fowler N, Oandasan I, Wyman R, eds. Preparing Our Future Family Physicians. An educational prescription for strengthening health care in changing times. Mississauga, ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada; 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.
9 Wright T. Doctors say health system has ‘collapsed’ as patient surges fuel ER closures. Global News. July 18, 2022. Accessed October 11, 2022.

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