Sarah Tulk is a family physician in Hamilton, Ontario
Despite earnestly advocating for physician mental health, my own story has remained cloaked in secrecy. As a medical student, I felt far too junior to risk such a revelation. I watched as stigma, perpetuated by the hidden curriculum, kept my peers from seeking mental health care. Still, I kept my head tucked safely in the sand, and swore to break my silence in residency. However, as a resident the fear of jeopardizing job prospects maintained my mutism. I vowed to speak up when I was staff. Unfortunately, early in my staff career my advocacy efforts were smothered by fierce judgment and harsh consequences. I wholeheartedly renewed my vows with the ostrich approach and reconciled to start talking about mental health when I was protected by more seniority. I hated the secrecy and hypocrisy, but at least I was safe. Then I heard of another resident suicide. Then a medical student. Another resident. A staff physician. ...continue reading →
Welcome to this week's edition of Dear Dr. Horton! Send the anonymous questions that keep you up at night to a real former Dean of Medical Student Affairs, Dr. Jillian Horton, and get the perspective you need with no fear of judgment. Submit your questions anonymously through this form, and if your question is appropriate for the column, expect an answer within a few weeks!
Dear Dr. Horton,
Looking back, I know there were many reasons I wanted to enter this field — but with the overwhelming and increasingly hectic nature of medical training and residency, it’s sometimes easy to forget what those were.
I don’t want to become jaded so early in the game, but can feel some of my initial idealism ebbing away and cynicism setting in. What are some ways to remind ourselves of our passion for medicine?
Dr. James Maskalyk describes emergencies “as a sign of life taking care of itself” in his most recent memoir, Life on the Ground Floor. Throughout his book, the reader is left to wonder what exactly Maskalyk means by this. It is an ominous phrase that, at first glance, reads more like a repackaged “survival of the fittest” for emergency departments. However, through deft and emotional storytelling, Maskalyk urges us to look beyond this stark message of Darwinism and see that emergencies are the purest form of life helping life, or “life taking care of itself”. ...continue reading →
For Canadian resident doctors, July 1st is more than a national holiday; it represents the day when newly-minted doctors become responsible for decisions in patient care. While this is an exciting day, it can also be fraught with anxiety and stress. Over the course of residency, acute work-related stressors, including traumas and patient deaths, can negatively impact residents’ wellbeing. Additionally, residents endure chronic stressors such as large debts, extended work hours, and isolation from family. These factors predispose residents to burnout. The prevalence of burnout among resident doctors is up to a staggering 75%. Resiliency interventions have been shown to work, and the time to begin implementing them nationwide is now. ...continue reading →
Rising awareness of the toll that physician burnout is taking on our profession and our healthcare services has inspired numerous organizational physician wellness initiatives and resilience courses aimed at individual physicians. Yet, as experts discuss the relative merits of the system-level approach vs. the individual-wellness-training approach to addressing burnout, one key element seems to be all-but ignored: the healing power of the relationship between physicians and the patients they serve.
Dr. Tom Hutchinson, in his book, Whole Person Care: Transforming Healthcare (Springer International Publishing AG, 2017), suggests that we have lost touch with “the interior processes of healing and growth in the individual patient and the practitioner that give meaning to illness and to healthcare,” ...continue reading →
In the last two weeks I’ve attended three very different scientific conferences on behalf of the CMAJ Group. In fact you couldn’t get more different than the 33rd International Conference on Pharmacoepidemiology and Therapeutic Risk Management (ICPE - all Big Data and massive record linkage aimed at finding out more about the benefits and harms of medicines and devices) and the 5th Canadian Conference on Physician Health (mainly focusing on the major problem of physician burnout and what we should do about it). And yet the same study was mentioned by plenary speakers at both conferences to support the same message: that physicians are overburdened by administrative and data-capture demands. Across four medical specialties, “for every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly 2 additional hours is spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day,” ...continue reading →