Are doctors compromising their own health to care for ours?
Published Sunday, March 19, 2017 4:51PM ADT
Last Updated Sunday, March 19, 2017 5:06PM ADT
While the medical field attracts our best and brightest minds, doctors don't get higher grades when it comes to coping with stress.
The Canadian Medical Education journal found that, "Medical students had higher perceived stress, negative coping, and lower resilience" than the general population.
Tanya Keogh is just months away from finishing her medical residency. But she says the years it took to get where she is weren’t easy.
“In medical school I juggled three jobs and running with my studies, so I did know I would work really hard and I knew what that meant, but I don't think I realized the level of responsibility and stress that would be placed on me every single day,” she said.
Dr. Keogh will see around 20 patients in the run of a day at a family practice, and her pager is never far away.
“I’m on call for the IWK, for obstetrics, for any family medicine patients, as well for the nursing home we work with,” Dr. Keogh said.
According to the Canadian Medical Education Journal, "Training to become a physician....can be detrimental to one's health." It cites "heavy academic workloads," "sleep disruption," "on-call schedules," and "exposure to life and death situations" as just some of the culprits.
On top of that are heavy debt loads. A medical degree from Dalhousie University costs upwards of $80,000.
Dr. Carolyn Thompson has become a sounding board for medical students and residents in her practice, and also in her role as the director of the professional support program with Doctors Nova Scotia.
“Probably the most common things they see us for are stress, burn out, anxiety over the workload,” said Dr. Thompson.
Studies show that physicians are at particular risk of mental health issues. Ten per cent have suicidal thoughts, and an astounding 50 per cent of all medical trainees experience symptoms of burnout.
Dr. Thompson says that exhaustion can affect exam scores, a sense of personal accomplishment and empathy.
“You always think about patient safety. If you have someone who's disengaged and really not on their game, you wonder about, what’s the risk of medical error,” said Dr. Thompson.
Resiliency is where Dalhousie University adjunct professor Darren Steeves comes in.
“If you study for four hours, get up and be physically active,” said Steeves. “You’re probably going to do better in the second half than trying to push through for nine hours.”
Warda Lemaye, Meghan Plotnick and John Bartolacci are working to make sure more medical students gain those tools. They make up part of the Medical Wellness Liason Team at Dalhousie.
“We're just a resource to see if people just want to talk to us or if we can point them in the right direction,” said Bartolacci.
The second-year medical students say along with tutorials and labs, they're also learning to make mental health – their peers' and their own – more of a priority.
“We're absolutely going to have hard days,” said Plotnick. “I think we've all had hard days. But I feel like it’s great to talk to your classmates. I think there’s a good culture hear of listening to one another.”
As for Dr. Keogh, she’s concentrating on taking care of herself first.
“Keeping the big picture and your goals, and ensuring that you’re passionate about what you’re doing is really important.”
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kelly Linehan.