Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
The term physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.1 Attributable to a range of personal, occupational and system-level factors, physicians and learners alike are increasingly voicing distress and calling for resources and support.
As a central issue for Canadian physicians, and a growing concern within the medical profession, physician ill-health is being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices,2 including the use of strategies rooted in organizational psychology and occupational medicine, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the integration of maintaining personal health as a core medical competency.3
Physician health, is important to the long-term sustainability of the physician workforce and health systems.4 As a quality indicator5-6 addressing the complex array of related issues is a shared responsibility of individual physicians and the systems in which they work.2,4,5 This involves efforts from individuals as well as system-level influencers, such as stakeholder groups from areas including academic medicine, medical education, practice environments, accrediting and regulatory bodies, provincial and territorial medical associations, regional and local health authorities, national medical associations and their affiliates, governments and other decision-making bodies.
Meaningful, system-wide change can only occur via deliberate and concerted efforts on a national scale5 to address personal, workplace, and cultural barriers and normalize the promotion of opportunities and conditions for optimizing health and wellness. Although considerable progress has been made, it is necessary to continue working towards a more coordinated and sustained system of health promotion, illness prevention and tertiary care to build on these successes.4-5
This policy aims to provide broad, aspirational recommendations to help guide stakeholders at all levels of the health system to promote a healthy, vibrant, and engaged profession - including a healthy practice and training culture, and work environment.
The CMA recommends that physicians and learners:
* demonstrate a commitment to physician health and well-being as part of their responsibilities under the CanMEDS Professional Role, including: Exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being (e.g., self-regulation and assessment, mindfulness, resilience); managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the career life cycle; and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need;3
* actively engage in fostering supportive work and training environments;
* assume responsibility for individual actions and behaviours that may contribute to negative culture and stigma;5
* foster relationships with family and friends, as well as interests outside of medicine, and ensure sufficient rest (including time-off); and
* have a family physician and visit him or her regularly for comprehensive and objective care.
The CMA recommends that:
* national-level advocacy be undertaken to address issues related to physician and learner health;
* efforts to address physician health incorporate individually targeted initiatives and optimize learning and practice environments, including cultivating a healthy culture,6-7 and that stakeholders collaborate (including input from physicians and learners) to develop and promote initiatives that strengthen physician health at both the individual and system levels;
* health systems adopt an understanding of their obligation to the health of physicians that is similar to the obligation of other Canadian employers to their workers (e.g., psychological safety, work hours, employee resources, standards and expectations);
* policies aiming to cultivate a healthy culture be modelled, and behaviours not conducive to supporting and enabling a healthy culture dealt with in an effective manner;
* physician and health system leaders acknowledge and demonstrate that physician health is a priority, and continually assess whether actions and policies align with desired values and culture;4
* physician and health system leaders be better equipped to identify and address behaviours that are symptomatic of distress (e.g., psychological) and receive more comprehensive training to address with colleagues, including within teams;
* mechanisms and opportunities for physicians and learners to access existing services and programs (e.g., provincial, institutional) are maximized, and that these resources are regularly promoted and barriers to access addressed in a timely manner;5,8
* standards, processes and strategies be developed to address occupational barriers to positive health8 (at a minimum, these should address the meaningful integration of occupational and personal life, provision of resources to enhance self-care skills,4 and prioritization of opportunities for adequate rest, exercise, healthy diet and leisure;8
* wellness (including enhancement of meaning, enjoyment and engagement) be promoted, instead of an exclusive focus on reduction of harm;5
* physicians and learners be encouraged to have a family physician, and that barriers to access such care be identified and addressed;
* physicians, particularly those providing primary care to other physicians, have access to training in treating physician colleagues;
* physicians and learners be given reasonable access to confidential assistance in dealing with personal and professional difficulties, provided in a climate free of stigmatization;
* programs and services be accessible to physicians and learners at every stage of their diagnosis and treatment, and that seeking treatment should not feel punitive or result in punitive consequences;
* physicians and learners have supportive learning and work environments free of discrimination, and for processes which provide reasonable accommodations to physicians and learners with existing disabilities, while allowing for safe patient care, to be bolstered; and
* practices which enable safe and effective patient care, and support workflow and efficient capture of information (e.g., electronic medical records), do not create excessive work and time burdens on physicians.
Physician organizations, professional associations and health authorities
The CMA recommends that:
* all physicians and learners have access to a robust and effective provincial physician health program (PHP), and for long-term, sustained efforts to be made to maintain and enhance physician health, including a commitment to resourcing PHPs5 via the provision of stable funding through provincial and territorial medical associations, or the negotiation of such funding from provincial governments;
* training programs, hospitals, and other workplaces ensure appropriate programs, services, and policies are developed, in-place, and enforced for physicians and learners to get help to manage health and behavioural issues, support the need for treatment, and facilitate return to work or training while protecting individual confidentiality, privacy, as well helping the institution manage risk;
* the range of continuing medical education offerings aimed at personal health be expanded (content should develop individual skills and extend to training for leaders and administrators that targets improved training and practice environments and culture);
* continuing education credits for physicians' efforts to enhance their personal wellness or that of colleagues be established and promoted, free of conditions requiring links to patient care;
* emerging champions from learner and early-career segments be identified and supported; and
* the unique health and wellness challenges faced by physicians and learners in rural, remote, or otherwise under-serviced regions (including the Canadian territories) be recognized, and for access to services and other resources to be enhanced.
Medical schools, residency training programs, and accreditation bodies
The CMA calls for:
* accreditation standards for health and wellness programs and initiatives for medical faculties and training programs, and health authorities to be raised, reviewed in an ongoing manner and that standards and competencies be enforced;
* action to bring meaningful change to the 'hidden curriculum' by aligning formal and 'hidden' curriculums that promote and reinforce positive conduct, and for accreditation bodies to consider this in their review and enforcement of standards for training programs; and
* formal health and wellness curricula to be integrated and prioritized at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including but not limited to training around how to recognize and respond to distress or illness in oneself and colleagues, as well as self-management strategies (e.g., resilience and mindfulness).
Medical regulatory authorities
The CMA calls for medical regulatory authorities to:
* work with provincial and territorial medical associations, PHPs, governments and other key stakeholders to; (a) create a regulatory environment that protects the public (their explicit duty) while limiting barriers for physicians seeking diagnosis and treatment,5 and (b) promote resources for early self-identification of potential health issues; and
* while maintaining their duty to protect the public, review their approach to mental health challenges to ensure that focus is placed on the existence of impairment (illness interferes with ability to engage safely in professional activities,9 and not the mere presence of a diagnostic label or act of seeking of care5 (in order to ensure that physicians and learners who are appropriately caring for their health not be impacted in their ability to work).
The CMA calls for:
* governments to acknowledge the adverse impact their policies and processes can have on the health of physicians, and to adopt and enforce health and wellness standards through a lens of occupational health for physicians that are similar to those afforded to other Canadian workers;
* governments to work with employers and key stakeholders to create more effective systems that provide better practice and training conditions;5 and
* enhanced support for provincial PHPs, institutions (e.g., medical schools, training programs), and other providers of physician health services.5
The CMA recommends that:
* national and regional data for major health and wellness indicators be assessed at regular intervals to establish and compare norms and to better target and assess initiatives;
* a national research strategy be developed through collaboration among relevant stakeholders to identify priorities, coordinate efforts, and promote innovation (consider the specific recommendations from a 2016 research summit to improve wellness and reduce burnout,10 including: Estimating economic impacts; using common metrics; developing a comprehensive framework for interventions with individual and organizational components; and sharing the best available evidence); and
* further research in a range of areas including, but not limited to: efficacy of programs, strategies, and systems for promoting and managing health and wellness; examination of the factors exerting the greatest influence on physician health; and system-level interventions.5
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors October 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy on Physician Health
1 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
2 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D. Physician health: beyond work-life balance. CMAJ 2014;186:E502-503. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140708 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 Frank JR, Snell L, Sherbino J, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). CanMEDS 2015 physician competency framework. Ottawa: RCPSC; 2015. Available: http://canmeds.royalcollege.ca/uploads/en/framework/CanMEDS%202015%20Framework_EN_Reduced.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
4 Shanafelt TD, Noseworthy JH. Executive leadership and physician well-being: Nine organizational strategies to promote engagement and reduce burnout. Mayo Clin Proc 2017;92:129-6. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.10.004 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Physician health matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Ottawa: CMA; 2010. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/practice-management-and-wellness/Mentalhealthstrat_final-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
6 Wallace JE, Lemaire JB, Ghali WA. Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. Lancet 2009;374:1714-21. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61424-0 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
7 Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:195-205. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7674 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
8 Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, Mariné A, Serra C, Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, et al. Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers. Sao Paulo Medical Journal 2016;134:92-92. Available: https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.20161341T1 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
9 Rondinelli RD, Genovese E, Brigham CR, American Medical Association (AMA). Guides to the evaluation of permanent impairment. Chicago: AMA; 2008. Available: https://commerce.ama-assn.org/store/catalog/productDetail.jsp?product_id=prod1160002 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
10 Dyrbye LN, Trockel M, Frank E, Olson K, Linzer M, Lemaire J, et al. Development of a research agenda to identify evidence-based strategies to improve physician wellness and reduce burnout. Ann Intern Med 2017;166:743-4. Available: https://doi.org/10.7326/M16-2956 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
In recent decades there has been growing recognition of the impact of physician health on systemic outcomes and patient-care.1,2 Physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.3 It is also being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices aimed at shifting perceptions of health from being an individual (private) matter to more of a shared resource.4 In Canada evidence for this includes the use of strategies adapted from organizational psychology and occupational medicine to change physician behaviour, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the inclusion of maintaining personal health as a core competency for physicians.4,5 Despite concerted efforts to promote and protect the health and wellness of physicians, the collective state of physician health remains a significant threat to the viability of Canada's health system.1 Physician distress is emerging as an important quality indicator in medical practice,4,6 and both individual- and system-level factors are well-established contributors to compromised physician health.2,7 As such, the advancement of a model of shared responsibility - targeting the relative roles of individual physicians and system-level influencers8 - represents a robust response to this reality.
1. The state of learner and physician health
Poor health may develop before or during training and persist into medical practice. Medical school and residency training are particularly challenging times, when a myriad of competing personal and professional demands threaten learner health. In Canada, it has been reported that most students suffer from at least one form of distress over the course of their training9,10 and recent national data point to higher rates compared to their age and education-matched peers. With respect to burnout, characterized by a high level of emotional exhaustion and/or high level of depersonalization (at least weekly), overall rates are reportedly 37%.11,12 Similarly higher levels of depression, anxiety and burnout are reported among American medical students than in the general population.13
While both residents and physicians are reported to be physically healthier than the general population, their mental and social health are cause for concern.1,14 Compared with the general population, physicians are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse outcomes such as depression and burnout15,16 - the latter of which is nearly twice as common among physicians compared with workers in other fields, even after adjusting for age, sex, education level, relationship status, and work hours.17 Results from the 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey18 showed that 49% of residents and 33% of physicians screened positive for depression, and high burnout rates were reported in 38% of residents 29% of physicians. Furthermore, although the mental health, addiction and substance-use problems, including alcohol, among physicians are not dissimilar to those in the general population, the abuse of prescription drugs (e.g., opioids) is reportedly higher.1,19 Although most physicians referred to monitoring programs have been diagnosed with substance use disorders, an increasing number are being referred for recurrent mood disorders, often stemming from workplace concerns.20,21
1.1 Contributing factors
Adverse health outcomes among learners and physicians are linked to a range of contributing factors, including intrinsic ones (e.g., personality characteristics22 and other personal vulnerabilities) and extrinsic ones (e.g., excessive workloads, excessive standards of training and practice, excessive duty hours, lack of autonomy, disruptive behaviour, poor work-life integration, increasing demands with diminishing resources, systemic failures, financial issues, and the practice and training environment).2,15,23
Moreover, the management of risk that many physicians are involved with as it relates to the treatment and management of their patients can be challenging and impacts their health4. A dearth of recent data on the health status of physicians in Canada represents a critical gap in knowledge and limits future efforts to refine, select and assess initiatives.
2.1. Impact on learners and physicians
Compromised physician health can result in decreased personal and professional satisfaction, dysfunctional personal and professional relationships, increased attrition and increased rates of suicide and suicidal ideation.6,24,25 Perhaps most troubling, completed suicide rates among physicians are 1.4-2.3 times higher than in the general population - between 300 and 400 physicians annually in the United States.26 In Canada, suicidal ideation among physicians (including residents) has been recently reported at 19% (lifetime) and 9% (in the last year)18, while Canadian medical student data report 14% (lifetime) and 6% (in the last year).11 Overall, ideation rates are higher among both physicians and learners than in the general population.27
2.2. Impact on patient care
The impact of the mental and physical health of physicians extends to the quality of care provided to patients.16,28,29 For instance, physicians suffering from burnout are reportedly two to three times more likely to report their conduct with their patients as sub-optimal.24 Indeed, physicians remain a primary source of health information for patients, and they act as both role models and health advocates.15 Characteristics of burnout (e.g., poor communication and reduced empathy) run counter to the core principles of patient-centred care,30 and physicians who maintain healthy lifestyles are more likely to focus on preventive strategies with their patients.31,32 Although deficits in physician health can negatively affect patient care, it is notable that evidence linking the health of physicians to medical errors is incomplete, if not difficult to establish. Nevertheless, studies have reported a relationship between medical error and specific adverse outcomes such as burnout.17,33
2.3 Impact on health system
Issues that are associated with compromised physician health, such as reduced productivity, increased turnover, absenteeism and the likelihood of early retirement,25,34 contribute to the strained state of the health system. Given that physicians represent a significant proportion of the Canadian medical workforce, more attention must be paid to physician health if the health system is to be sustainable.2 Encouragingly, studies have shown that resources and services such as workplace wellness programs produce investment returns,35,36 such as decreases in medical leave and absenteeism2,36,37 Implementing strategies from occupational medicine are also being increasingly employed to ensure patient safety when doctors return to work after illness.4 This contributes to helping balance the need of institutions and medical regulatory agencies to minimize the risk while maximizing quality of patient care, with the desire of individual physicians to help their patients while leading healthy, fulfilling lives.4
Although there are moral grounds for addressing physician and learner ill-health, an economic case can also be made to support and guide initial and ongoing investment to address the problem.7,18 In navigating the many external challenges facing the Canadian the health system, it is critical that system-level leaders not neglect internal threats, including physician distress and dissatisfaction6,7, and challenges in navigating complex work environments.24 To this end, although there are many positive and supportive elements within medical culture, it is also important to acknowledge aspects that contribute to poor health.
2.4 Impact on the culture of medical practice and training and on the workplace
Enduring norms within the culture of medicine are directly contributing to the deterioration of the health of Canadian learners and physicians.2 Culturally rooted impediments, such as the reluctance to share personal issues or admit vulnerability, discourage the medical profession from acknowledging, identifying and addressing physician health issues.7 Physicians and learners alike face pressure not to be ill, to care for patients regardless of their personal health and even to attempt to control their own illness and treatment by self-medicating.1,38 Indeed, physicians are often portrayed as being invincible professionals who put patient needs above all else, including their own needs.39,40
Although the CMA Code of Ethics encourages physicians to seek help from colleagues and qualified professionals when personal or workplace challenges compromise patient care41 physicians tend to delay or avoid seeking treatment, especially for psychosocial or psychiatric concerns. Moreover, nearly 33% of Canadian physicians are not registered with a family physician.42 which means they are among the lowest users of health services.43 Providing care to physician colleagues is both complex and challenging, yet this is an area where formal training has not been explicitly or systematically provided on a national scale.1 There is a need to identify physicians willing to treat colleagues, to develop or adapt existing approaches that encourage help-seeking and to help physicians to navigate the treatment of colleagues.
Stigma around mental health within medical practice and training acts as a significant barrier to early intervention.1,44 In a localized study of Canadian physicians, 18% reported distress, but only 25% considered getting help and only 2% actually did.39 Similarly, national CMA data reported that 'feeling ashamed to seek help' was identified (76%) as a major reason for physicians not wanting to contact a physician health program.18 Indeed, common concerns include not wanting to let colleagues or patients down, believing seeking help is acknowledging weakness, being apprehensive about confidentiality, and fearing negative reprisals (e.g., from colleagues, supervisors, regulatory bodies, other licence-granting bodies, insurers)1,45 Fear of retribution is also a frequent reason why physicians may feel hesitant to report impaired colleagues, even if supportive of the concept.46
From the outset of training, medical learners are introduced to system-wide cultural aspects and values of the medical profession, which they then internalize and pass on to others.2 Extensive literature on the "hidden curriculum" points to a performance culture that includes norms such as the view that adversity is character building and the valorization of emotional repression (e.g., mental toughness).2,47 Culture-related issues are being increasingly addressed as a function of medical professionalism. For instance, commitment to physician health, collegiality and support have been established as key competencies within the Professional Role of the CanMEDS Framework,5 the most widely accepted and applied physician competency framework in the world.48 This involves a commitment to exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being and professional performance; managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the physician life cycle, and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need. In support of these commitments to personal care, physicians must develop their capacity for self-assessment and monitoring, mindfulness and reflection, and resilience for sustainable practice.5
Intra-professionalism, characterized by effective clinical and personal communication among physicians,49 significantly influence job satisfaction, which in turn has been shown to predict physician health outcomes.50 Furthermore, peer support can buffer the negative effects of work demands;39 collegial, professional environments are known to be healthier for both providers and patients.51 Conversely, unprofessional behaviour is associated with physician dissatisfaction,50 and dysfunctional workplaces and poor collegiality are linked to burnout.52 Unprofessional workplace behaviour is tolerated, and in fact is often customary, within medical training and practice environments.53
Of particular concern, such behaviour carried out by more senior physicians has been shown to encourage similar conduct among learners,54 highlighting the importance of promoting effective professional role modelling.55 Unfortunately, poor supervisory behaviour, and even mistreatment of learners, is common within the medical training environment.56 Although expectations for professional behaviour are increasingly being incorporated into both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, issues related to a lack of professionalism persist in both training and practice.51 System-wide efforts are needed to counter what is perceived to be an eroding sense of collegiality and to promote professionalism as a way to address physician burnout and enhance engagement.7,39
3. Treatment and preventive approaches
3.1 Physician health services
The scope of physician health services has expanded from focusing primary focus on identifying treating and monitoring physicians with substance abuse issues to more recent efforts to de-stigmatize poor physician health and integrate proactive resources to complement tertiary approaches.1 In Canada, there are multiple services to support the health needs of learners and physicians. These can be conceptualized along a continuum of approaches,1 including the following: health-promoting environments (e.g., efforts to ensure balanced workloads, provide more support staff, and encourage physicians to make sure they get adequate exercise, nutrition and sleep in training and practice); primary prevention (e.g., resilience training, stress-reduction groups, fatigue management programs, strategies to enhance teamwork and collaborative care); secondary prevention (e.g., access to assessment and counselling; services and workshops on coping with adverse events, litigation and career transitions and on managing difficult behaviour); and tertiary prevention (e.g., more intensive outpatient counselling, inpatient treatment). Many of these approaches, including those at the system level, focus on assisting the individual physician rather than addressing more contextual issues.
Most jurisdictions in Canada have consolidated a number of services under the banner of a provincial physician health program (PHP).These range from counselling, treatment and/or peer support to fitness-to-practice and return-to-work assessments, workplace behaviour management and relationship management. The services available to physicians in a given area vary greatly.1,15 More established and resourced programs often offer services across the continuum, while less established programs tend to focus on secondary and tertiary services.2 Provincial PHPs have been shown to produce positive outcomes1,20,21,48 and are generally considered to be effective in addressing user issues,57 however but many physicians remain reluctant to access them.58 In addition to provincial programs, many learners and physicians in Canada can access support and treatment from other sources, including medical school and faculty wellness programs, employee assistance or workplace programs, and more individual-led options such as physician coaches.1 There has been a steady accumulation of evidence on the positive returns of workplace health and wellness programs,35 as well as indications that even modest investments in physician health can make a difference.17
In response to challenges posed by the considerable diversity in the organizational structure of provincial PHPs, the ways in which PHPs classify information, the range of services they offer, the mechanisms of accountability to stakeholders and the manner in which they pursue non-tertiary activities (e.g., education and prevention work)59 a consortium of PHPs released a preliminary Descriptive Framework for Physician Health Services in Canada in 2016. Through this framework a series of core services (and modes of activity within each) were defined.59 Potential users of the framework include PHPs, academic institutions, medical regulators, national associations, hospitals and health authorities, as well as other local groups. The framework may serve a range of purposes, including program reviews and planning, quality improvement, resource allocation, advocacy, stakeholder consultation and standards development.59 Initiatives such as this framework help address a persistent gap in Canada around equity of and access to services. Overall, fulfilling the needs of all learners and physicians through enhanced service quality and functional equivalence is an ongoing challenge for provincial PHPs and other service providers, and it must be a priority moving forward.
3.2 Individual primary prevention
Prevention and promotion activities can help mitigate the severity and decrease the incidence of adverse outcomes associated with physician health issues among learners and physicians.3 Although secondary and tertiary services are critical components of any health strategy, complementary, proactive, preventive initiatives promote a more comprehensive approach. Some of the best-documented strategies include attuning to physical health (e.g., diet, exercise, rest), psychosocial and mental health (e.g., mindfulness and self-awareness, resilience training, protecting and maintaining cultural and recreational interests outside of medicine, and protecting time and relationships with family and friends).60 For instance, resilience has been identified as an indicator of physician wellness61 and as a critical skill for individuals working in health care environments.39 Innovative, coordinated approaches such as resilience and mindfulness training are instrumental in helping physicians overcome both anticipated and unexpected difficulties, to position them for a sustainable career in medicine.
Many internal (e.g., personal) and external (e.g., occupational) factors can interfere with a physician's capacity to consistently maintain healthy lifestyle behaviours and objectively attend to personal health needs. Although the emergence of individually targeted proactive and preventive activities is encouraging, a greater focus on system-level initiatives to complement both proactive and tertiary approaches is needed. This also aligns with recent CMA member data indicating that medical students (61%), residents (55%), physicians (43%) and retired physicians (41%) want more access to resources to ensure their emotional, social and psychological well-being.62 Such an approach is increasingly important in light of physicians' professional responsibility to demonstrate a commitment to personal health.5
4. Physician health as a shared responsibility
Although physicians are a critical component of Canadian health systems, those systems do not necessarily promote health in the physician community. It cannot be overstated that many health challenges facing learners and physicians are increasingly systemic in nature.1 Despite increasing challenges to the cultural norm that health-related issues are an individual-physician problem,2 system-level factors are often ignored.1,7 Although solutions targeted at the individual level (e.g., mindfulness and resilience training) are important proactive approaches and are a common focus, they often do not address occupational and organizational factors.7 Intervention exclusively at the individual level is unlikely to have meaningful and sustainable impacts. Interventions targeting individual physicians are likely most effective when paired with efforts to address more systemic (e.g., structural and occupational) issues.63 Moreover, organization-directed interventions have been shown to be more effective in reducing physician burnout than individual-directed interventions, and meaningful reductions in negative outcomes have been linked to system-level interventions.22,34
Concerted efforts at the system level will ultimately drive substantive, meaningful and sustainable change. This includes coordination among leaders from national, provincial and local stakeholders as well as individual physicians.16,22,64 Potential influencers include medical schools and other training programs, regulatory bodies, researchers (and funding bodies), professional associations and other health care organizations, as well as insurers.1 Indeed, addressing the complex array of issues related to physician health is a shared responsibility. A clear mandate exists to guide individuals and leaders in promoting and protecting the health of learners and physicians.1,7
Physician health is a growing priority for the medical profession. Medical practice and training present complex occupational environments34, in which leaders play a central role in shaping training, practice and organizational culture through the implicit and explicit ways in which they communicate core values.2 When promoting physician health across the career lifecycle it is also important to consider the unique challenges and experiences of physicians who are not actively practicing (e.g., on leave; have non-clinical roles) as well as those who are retired.
Notwithstanding the impact on patient care or health systems, promoting the health of individual physicians and learners is in and of itself worthy of attention. Indeed, leaders in the health system have a vested interest in helping physicians to meet the personal and professional challenges inherent in medical training and practice as well as in promoting positive concepts such as wellness and engagement.7 The increasingly blurred lines between physician health, professionalism and the functioning of health systems40 suggest that leaders at all levels must promote a unified and progressive vision of a healthy, vibrant and engaged physician workforce. This involves championing health across the career life cycle through advocacy as well as promoting solutions and outcomes through a lens of shared responsibility at both individual and system levels. Broad solutions skewed towards one level, without requisite attention given to the other level, are unikely to result in meaningful change. Moving from rhetoric to action, this next frontier integrates the promotion of self-care among individuals, support for healthy and supportive training and practice environments - both physical and cultural - as well as continued innovation and development of (and support for) physician health services. This constellation of efforts will ultimately contribute to the success of these actions.
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Physician health matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Ottawa: CMA; 2010. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/practice-management-and-wellness/Mentalhealthstrat_final-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
2 Montgomery AJ. The relationship between leadership and physician well-being; A scoping review. Journal of Healthcare Leadership 2016;55:71-80. Available: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/doaj/11793201/2016/00000055/00000001/art00010 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
4 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D. Physician health: beyond work-life balance. CMAJ 2014;186:E502-503. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140708 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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8 Lemaire JB, Wallace JE. Burnout among doctors. BMJ 2017;358:j3360.
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19 Lefebvre LG, Kaufmann IM. The identification and management of substance use disorders in anesthesiologists. Can J Anaesth 2017;64:211-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12630-016-0775-y (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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23 Lemaire JB, Wallace JE. How physicians identify with predetermined personalities and links to perceived performance and wellness outcomes: a cross-sectional study. BMC Health Serv Res 2014;14:616. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-014-0616-z (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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25 Dewa CS, Jacobs P, Thanh NX, Loong D. An estimate of the cost of burnout on early retirement and reduction in clinical hours of practicing physicians in Canada. BMC Health Serv Res 2014;14:254. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-14-254 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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27 Dyrbye LN, West CP, Satele D, Boone S, Tan L, Sloan J, et al. Burnout among U.S. medical students, residents, and early career physicians relative to the general U.S. population. Acad Med 2014;89:443-51. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000134 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
28 de Oliveira GS, Chang R, Fitzgerald PC, Almeida MD, Castro-Alves LS, Ahmad S, et al. The prevalence of burnout and depression and their association with adherence to safety and practice standards: a survey of United States anesthesiology trainees. Anesth Analg 2013;117:182-93. Available: https://doi.org/10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182917da9 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
29 Shanafelt TD, Mungo M, Schmitgen J, Storz KA, Reeves D, Hayes SN, et al. Longitudinal study evaluating the association between physician burnout and changes in professional work effort. Mayo Clin Proc 2016;91:422-31. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.02.001 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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31 Cameron D, Katch E, Anderson P, Furlong MA. Healthy doctors, healthy communities. J Ambul Care Manage 2004;27:328-38.
32 Lobelo F, de Quevedo IG. The evidence in support of physicians and health care providers as physical activity role models. Am J Lifestyle Med 2016;10:36-52.
33 Shanafelt TD, Balch CM, Bechamps G, Russell T, Dyrbye L, Satele D, et al. Burnout and medical errors among American surgeons. Ann Surg 2010;251:995-1000. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0b013e3181bfdab3 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
34 Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:195-205. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7674 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
35 Chenevert D, Tremblay MC. Analyse de l'efficacité des programmes d'aide aux employés : Le cas du PAMQ. Montreal: HEC Montreal; 2016. Available: http://www.professionsante.ca/files/2016/07/Rapport-Chenevert-VF.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
36 Morneau Shepell Ltd. Workplace mental health priorities report 2015. Toronto: Morneau Shepell Ltd.; 2015. Available: https://www.morneaushepell.com/ca-en/insights/workplace-mental-health-priorities-report (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
37 Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff (Millwood) 2010;29:304-11. Available: https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0626 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
38 Harrison J. Doctors' health and fitness to practise: The need for a bespoke model of assessment. Occup Med (Lond) 2008;58:323-7. Available: https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqn079 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
39 Wallace JE, Lemaire J. On physician well being-you'll get by with a little help from your friends. Soc Sci Med 2007;64:2565-77. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.03.016 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
40 Lesser CS, Lucey CR, Egener B, Braddock CH, Linas SL, Levinson W. A behavioral and systems view of professionalism. JAMA 2010;304:2732-7. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.1864 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
41 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA code of ethics. Ottawa: CMA; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
42 ePhysician Health. Primary care: Physician patient module. Ottawa: ePhysician Health; 2017. Available: http://ephysicianhealth.com/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
43 Sibbald B, Bojke C, Gravelle H. National survey of job satisfaction and retirement intentions among general practitioners in England. BMJ 2003;326:22.
44 Thompson WT, Cupples ME, Sibbett CH, Skan DI, Bradley T. Challenge of culture, conscience, and contract to general practitioners' care of their own health: qualitative study. BMJ 2001;323:728-31.
45 Schwenk TL, Davis L, Wimsatt LA. Depression, stigma, and suicidal ideation in medical students. JAMA 2010;304:1181-90. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.1300 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
46 DesRoches CM, Rao SR, Fromson JA, Birnbaum RJ, Iezzoni L, Vogeli C, et al. Physicians' perceptions, preparedness for reporting, and experiences related to impaired and incompetent colleagues. JAMA 2010;304:187-93. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.921 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
47 Gaufberg EH, Batalden M, Sands R, Bell SK. The hidden curriculum: what can we learn from third-year medical student narrative reflections? Acad Med 2010;85:1709-16. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181f57899 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
48 Dupont RL, Skipper GE. Six lessons from state physician health programs to promote long-term recovery. J Psychoactive Drugs 2012;44:72-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2012.660106 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
49 Beaulieu M-D, Samson L, Rocher G, Rioux M, Boucher L, Del Grande C. Investigating the barriers to teaching family physicians' and specialists' collaboration in the training environment: a qualitative study. BMC Med Educ 2009;9:31. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-9-31 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
50 Van Ham I, Verhoeven AAH, Groenier KH, Groothoff JW, De Haan J. Job satisfaction among general practitioners: a systematic literature review. Eur J Gen Pract 2006;12:174-80. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/13814780600994376 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
51 Bahaziq W, Crosby E. Physician professional behaviour affects outcomes: a framework for teaching professionalism during anesthesia residency. Can J Anaesth 2011;58:1039-50. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12630-011-9579-2 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
52 Cydulka RK, Korte R. Career satisfaction in emergency medicine: the ABEM Longitudinal Study of Emergency Physicians. Ann Emerg Med 2008;51:714-722.e1. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annemergmed.2008.01.005 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
53 Doja A, Bould MD, Clarkin C, Eady K, Sutherland S, Writer H. The hidden and informal curriculum across the continuum of training: A cross-sectional qualitative study. Med Teach 2016;38:410-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2015.1073241 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
54 Case GA. Performance and the hidden curriculum in Medicine. Performance Research 2014;19:6-13. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2014.947120 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
55 Schneider B, Barbera KM. The Oxford handbook of organizational climate and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014.
56 Cook AF, Arora VM, Rasinski KA, Curlin FA, Yoon JD. The prevalence of medical student mistreatment and its association with burnout. Acad Med 2014;89:749-54. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000204 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
57 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Physician health: Putting yourself first. Ottawa: CMPA; 2015 Sep. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2015/physician-health-putting-yourself-first (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
58 Givens JL, Tjia J. Depressed medical students' use of mental health services and barriers to use. Acad Med 2002;77:918-21.
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TUITION FEE ESCALATION AND DEREGULATION IN UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN MEDICINE (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is very concerned about high and rapidly escalating, undergraduate medical school tuition fees across Canada. Ontario set a precedent for the deregulation of tuition fees in May 1998 and many provinces have since followed. This policy gives universities, including medical schools, the discretion to set fees for training in those areas that lead to professional careers, such as medicine. For the 2008-2009 academic year, first-year tuition fees at most Ontario medical schools were triple the tuition fees in 1997-1998 at an average of $16,550 per year;1 this figure does not include compulsory "other fees" that can be as much as $1,700 per year.2 Irrespective of whether tuition fees have been regulated, some medical schools outside of Ontario have doubled their tuition fees within the same time period. Decreased government funding to universities is increasing the fiscal pressures on institutions and is driving these dramatic tuition fee increases. The CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant and detrimental impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services.
Broad Effects of High Tuition Fees
Lack of Diversity
Medical education in Canada has traditionally been affordable and accessible to individuals from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups who later serve an equally diverse population. Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees may close the door to individuals who either cannot afford the high costs of a medical education or wish to avoid the prospect of significant debt load upon graduation. High tuition fees may therefore create an imbalance in admissions to medical school by favouring those who represent the affluent segment of society and not the variety of groups reflected in the Canadian population. The proportion of medical students from lower income families is already extremely low and decreasing further.3 Paradoxically, funds that should be injected to making tuition fees reasonable - and therefore more accessible by a broader range of society - may soon need to be allocated to creating career promotion and special financial support programs that target those groups that have been alienated by high tuition fees.
Influence on Practice Choice and Practice Location ("Brain Drain")
It is likely that paying off debts as quickly as possible will become a key consideration when determining practice location and specialty. For instance, more students may feel compelled to maximize their earning potential by pursuing those specialties that generate high incomes; others may choose those specialties with short training periods so they can enter the workforce and start to pay off debts sooner.
Debt load may also influence where graduating physicians choose to practise medicine. The increasing willingness of American recruiters to pay off the debts of new graduates provides tremendous incentive to practise in the U.S. and explore research opportunities; unfortunately, it only aggravates the ongoing problem of the "brain drain" of Canadian physicians.4 While we have been enjoying a net gain of physicians from the U.S., we may experience net loss with physician shortages expected in the U.S. More physician retention and recruitment initiatives are needed to encourage physicians to remain in or return to Canada. This is especially true for rural and remote communities. Urban areas are often in a better financial position to offer incentives to new graduates than rural and remote communities where physician shortages are most pronounced.
Effects on Rural and Remote Areas
The CMA believes that governments must be made aware of the potentially negative impact of high tuition fees and student debt on physician workforce supply for the rural and remote areas of Canada. Research shows that medical students from rural and remote areas have a greater likelihood of returning to these communities to practise medicine.5 Research also shows that students of rural origin have higher student debts6 and are underrepresented in Canadian medical schools.7 Students from rural and remote communities face the challenge of not being able to live at home while they attend university. They must assume high relocation expenses and travel costs, as well as separation from their families while they are away at school. Of student respondents to the 2007 National Physician Survey, 53.1% of rural students compared with 67.4% of urban medical students had no debt upon entering medical school. When asked to predict their expected debt upon completion of medical school, 33.2% of rural students compared with 23% of urban students expected their debtload to exceed $100,000.8 Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees might make both the personal and financial costs of pursuing a medical education too significant for students from rural and remote areas to even consider. As a result, this may generate fewer physicians willing to practise in these areas and exacerbate the problem most rural and remote communities already face in attracting and retaining physicians. High tuition fees might also further increase the reliance on international medical graduates in rural and remote communities. While the CMA values the contributions of international medical graduates in alleviating shortages in physician supply, it believes that Canadian governments must adopt the guiding principle of self-sufficiency in the production and retention of physicians to meet population needs.
Effects on New and Potential Medical Students
Medical students affected by high and escalating tuition fees will graduate with unprecedented debt loads. Enormous education costs, already a reality in some provinces, are a growing trend. In 2007, over one third (36%) of students said they expected debtloads of $80,000 or more upon completion of medical school.9
A number of factors, as highlighted below, contribute to students' financial burden and may affect their ability to pay off debts and meet financial obligations. This, in turn, may influence their choice of medical discipline and practice location. Exorbitant education costs may also result in students considering dropping out of, or taking longer to complete, their medical studies because they cannot afford the ongoing costs, or are too overwhelmed with the combined stress of their medical studies and trying to make financial ends meet. The CMA is very concerned that excessive debt loads will exacerbate the stress already experienced by medical students during their training and will have a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.
Previous Education Debt and Accumulative Debt
Most Canadian medical schools make an undergraduate degree a prerequisite to application. As such, by the time most students are accepted into medical school, they may have already accumulated debt from a previous undergraduate degree. Many students have also completed postgraduate degrees before entering medical school.10 This debt continues to accumulate during the undergraduate years of medical school and into the postgraduate training period, which is anywhere from two years to seven years in duration. This does not include additional time spent doing fellowships. It may be very useful to establish a national clearinghouse of public and private financial assistance programs to help students in their search for financial support.
Limited or No Employment Opportunities during Undergraduate Training
Tuition fees, along with ongoing increases in living expenses, are already making it very difficult for some students to make ends meet. It makes matters worse that there are limited or no opportunities to generate income through employment during the academic year and the summer months. Given the intensity of the medical school program, some schools strongly advise against working part time. To further compound the problem, some schools have very short summer breaks. For those schools that do provide summer holidays, the holidays often start later than other university programs, by which time employment opportunities are scarce or low paying. There is also the common expectation that medical students will undertake unpaid clinical or research elective experiences during the summer to enhance their desirability for postgraduate medical programs.
Limited or No Remuneration for the Clinical Clerkship
During the clerkship years, there are no summertime breaks because students spend these years working in hospitals and other clinical settings. All Canadian medical students (outside of Québec) receive a relatively small stipend during their clerkship varying from $2,808 to $6,000;11 however, the stipend had previously been abolished in medical schools in Ontario and Québec in the early 1990s. Fortunately Ontario reinstated the stipend as the Final Year Medical Student Bursary in 2004.12
In addition to very limited or no opportunities to generate employment income, medical students must bear a number of unique and significant costs. These include very high textbook and instrument costs, as well as a variety of expenses associated with their clerkship, such as travel to and from the clinical setting and the need for professional attire. The introduction of distributed medical education including satellite campuses, co-campuses and rural learning sites has increased the amount of travel required of medical students as well as the associated costs.
Off-site electives also generate many additional expenses, including the cost for travel to the site - which may be in a different province - as well as accommodation and other living expenses. A 1999 survey of graduating medical students revealed that more than half took an off-site elective at a specific institution in order to increase their chances of being matched to that site.13 As postgraduate training becomes even more competitive, the number of students taking off-site electives may increase and so will the number of students who are adding this expense to their overall debt load.
Medical students must also assume considerable costs related to interviews for residency training, including the high costs for travel to various interview sites, accommodation expenses, application fees for the resident matching service and other miscellaneous expenses. There is also a considerable fee for the qualifying examination that is written at the end of medical school.
Insufficient Public Funding and Increasing Reliance on Bank Loans
Government financial support programs (bursaries and loans) are not increasing to meet students' needs due to rising tuition costs and living expenses. As a consequence, the number of students who must rely on interest-bearing bank loans to help support themselves while they are in school may increase. Unlike some government programs, repayment of bank loans often cannot be postponed until after graduation and interest payment is required during the course of study; this further exacerbates students' financial stress.
Upon graduation from medical school, students must pursue two to seven years of postgraduate training to obtain a licence to practise medicine. This training period is marked with fees for examinations as well as an annual tuition and/or registration fee. During 2008-2009, the tuition fee was as much as $3,900 in some provinces.14 Residents are also required to work long hours in hospitals and other clinical settings and have frequent on-call responsibilities. Although residents do receive a salary for this work, the remuneration is relatively modest when these factors and debt servicing payments are considered. In fact, mandatory debt maintenance can consume a very significant proportion of a resident's pay.15 The CMA opposes tuition fees for residents. While the CMA's opposition to residency tuition is based on a number of factors not limited to its financial impact, clearly, tuition fees exacerbate debt.
High Practice Start-up Costs and Decreased Pay Potential
Licensed physicians wanting to establish a clinical practice currently face start-up costs estimated between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on their practice specialty and type (e.g., solo versus group practice).16 Some specialties require capital investment over and above the basic start-up costs. These expenses will add to the significant debt that new physicians will bear in the next few years.
In addition to significantly higher debt load than the previous generation of new physicians, a number of factors may influence the net income of physicians and their ability to pay off debts. These include billing caps, stagnant fees for services, high malpractice insurance fees, overhead expenses and increasing non-remunerative administrative responsibilities.
In summary, the CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services. This impact includes:
* creating socioeconomic barriers to application to medical school and threatening the diversity of future physicians serving the public
* exacerbating the physician brain drain to the U.S. where new physicians can pay off their huge debts more quickly
* generating fewer physicians available or interested in practising in rural and remote areas of Canada
In response to its concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and high tuition fee increases, the CMA recommends that:
1 governments increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases
2 any tuition increase should be regulated and reasonable
3 financial support systems for students be developed concomitantly or in advance of any tuition increase, be in direct proportion to the tuition fee increase and provided at levels that meet the needs of students.
Glossary of Terms
Undergraduate Program in Medicine, also known as "Medical School"
Medical school is the period of study, usually four years in duration that leads to the doctor of medicine or "MD" degree upon graduation. Most Canadian universities require applicants to the undergraduate medicine program to have at least a three-year degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science degree) before they are eligible to apply. Although the title "Doctor" is conferred upon successful completion of the undergraduate program, an additional two to seven years or more of residency training is required before these individuals can apply for a licence to practise medicine in Canada.
The clerkship is the period during the last one to two years of undergraduate studies in medicine during which medical students work in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices.
Many students take off-site electives during their clerkship. An "elective" is a course or training that is not mandatory to the curriculum, but may be elected or chosen by the student. An "off-site" elective means that the training is being provided at a location different from the medical school where the student is enrolled; for example, the elective may be in a different city, province, or even a different country.
During the last year of undergraduate training, most graduating medical students participate in a national process that matches them with available residency training positions in Canada.
Residency/Postgraduate Training Period
After earning his/her MD degree and receiving the title "Doctor," additional training is required in a specific area before an individual may practise medicine in Canada. This period of training is referred to as "residency" or "postgraduate training;" the individuals undergoing the training are called "residents." Residents usually work in hospitals (also called "teaching hospitals") under the supervision of a licensed physician. Depending on the field of study, residency training may range from two to seven years or longer if subspecialty training is pursued (e.g., pediatric cardiology). At the end of residency training, individuals must pass a number of examinations to practise medicine in Canada.
A fellowship is training sought by individuals who wish to obtain expertise in a specific area of medicine above and beyond basic residency requirements.
1 Tuition Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine: Session Commencing Fall 2008. Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, November 2008.
3 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
4 "Are We Losing Our Minds? Trends, Determinants and the Role of Taxation in Brain Drain to the United States," The Conference Board of Canada, July 1999.
5 Advisory Panel Report on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions. Canadian Medical Association, 1992.
6 2007 National Physician Survey.
7 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE, Johnson IL, et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. CMAJ 2002;166(8):1029-35. 
8 2007 National Physician Survey.
9 2007 National Physician Survey.
10 "Educational Attainment at Time of Application of Registered and Not Registered Applicants to Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2006-2007 (Table 105)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p154.
11 "Duration of Clinical Clerkship and Amount of Stipend in Canadian Faculties of Medicine 2008-2009 (Table 7)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p9.
12 Clinical Clerkship Stipends by Faculty of Medicine, 1995-1996 to 1999-2000, Canadian Medical Association Research Directorate, January 2000.
13 Results of the Post-Match Survey of Students Graduating 1999, Canadian Resident Matching Service.
14 "Post-MD Clinical Trainee Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2008-2009 (Table 6)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p8.
15 2007 National Physician Survey.
16 Practice Management, MD Management Ltd.