A physician typing on a laptop with a stethoscope in the foreground.
A physician typing on a laptop with a stethoscope in the foreground. Credit: National Cancer Institute / Unsplash Credit: National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

Family physicians are the foundation of Ontario’s health care system and trusted partners to their patients. Growing service demands, expanding patient complexity, and increasing documentation work are resulting in many family physicians feeling over exerted and burnt out.

A recently published Ontario Medical Association (OMA) report says a shortage of family doctors in the province is only going to get worse if burnout and increasing administrative burdens are not addressed. As of March 2022, there were 2.2 million Ontarians who didn’t have a family doctor- a significant increase of 450,000 people in just the last two years.

Ontario ranks seventh among Canadian provinces in number of doctors per 100,000 patients (2.3), according to a report published in April 2022. 

A survey from the Ontario College for Family Physicians found that doctors are spending on average 19.1 hours per week on nonprofessional work such as filling out forms, meaning that many physicians spend more time completing required documentation, than caring for patients.It’s attributed to increased workload, staff shortages, lack of work-life balance and long working hours. Despite all challenges, Ontario’s doctors and all health care workers have provided the best possible care to their patients throughout the years.

 Now fewer medical students are choosing family medicine. This is happening at a time when the population is aging and patients’ needs are becoming more complex, and hospitals across the country are struggling to keep their emergency rooms operating. Minden’s Emergency Department closure as of June 1 is an eye opener.On the other hand, patient flow is growing Ontario receives nearly 50 per cent of over 410,000 new immigrants arriving in Canada every year.

This situation raises some important questions. 

How many medical schools and physicians do we have, and what is the Ontario government doing to improve the situation? 

What is being done to meet the financial challenges faced by healthcare in running the system efficiently?

What steps are being taken to quickly absorb internationally trained immigrant physicians in our system? 

What solutions do experts suggest overcoming physician burnout and improve patients’ outcomes?

There are 17 accredited medical schools in Canada, and Ontario has six of them.

According to the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) there are 31,500 practicing physicians in Ontario. In February 2022, the Ontario government released a new healthcare care plan boosting the number of medical school and residency spots over the next five years to improve doctor patient ratio. The announcement of 160 medical school and 295 postgraduate positions was later made by the Premier of Ontario.

All six medical schools in the province will benefit — the University of Toronto, Queen’s, the newly independent Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Western, McMaster and the University of Ottawa. The Metropolitan University’s medical school will receive funding for 80 undergraduate spots and 95 postgrad positions when it opens in Brampton in 2025.

The Ontario Medical Association strongly supported calls by Canada’s premiers last year for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 35 percent of provincial-territorial health care spending from the 22 percent. Ontario has fallen so far behind in health care spending over the last 30 years that it needs to invest an additional $5 billion a year just to reach the national average. This would give Ontario an additional $10 billion allowing the province to clear the backlog.

According to immigration Canada 3,600 physicians have become permanent residents in Canada since 2014, but statistics suggest that only one-third of them work in health care. It’s a gross waste of human capital. The province announced in January 2023 that it will introduce a Practice Ready Assessment (PRA) to fast-track international medical graduates’ integration to the healthcare system. Through this model, Internationally Trained Physicians (ITP) are assessed by a supervising physician over several months to gauge their “practice readiness”.

Successful PRA candidates are granted an independent license and must serve in an underserved community for two to three years. This is a very positive step and will help newly arrived ITP’s and underserved communities.

Physician burnout is a system-level problem It needs to be addressed both for physicians’ well-being and to ensure the health-care system can address all healthcare related problems. 

Some of the suggested solutions given by OMA are:

  • Increase the number of physicians and other support workers to reduce workload and maintain a reasonable physician, patient ratio.
  • More work-life balance through flexible work arrangements, reduced work hours.
  • Making digital health tools a seamless part of physicians’ workflow, including by ensuring different systems can speak to each other directly and easily.
  • Support for physician wellness and reasonable breaks at their workplaces.
  • We all should try to avoid all kinds of wastage in terms of material, diagnostics and time to keep the system running efficiently.
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Mehdi Rizvi

Mehdi Rizvi is a former member of the Community Editorial Board, Toronto Star and an affiliate of the Center of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement, which is a consortium of three...