Are health care careers losing their lustre?

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Author: Diana Duong
Date: Nov. 7, 2022
From: CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal(Vol. 194, Issue 43)
Publisher: CMA Impact Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,435 words
Lexile Measure: 1300L

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It's no secret that Canada's health systems are struggling. But are stories of increasing stress, burnout, harassment, and staffing challenges taking the shine off health care careers?

More than one in 10 physicians, one in six personal support workers, and nearly one-quarter of nurses say they intend to leave or change jobs in the next few years, not including those who intend to retire, according to Health Canada data.

Years in practice appear to factor into the decision. Across the health workers surveyed, those with fewer than five years of experience were more likely to consider leaving their jobs (39.6%) than those who had five to nine years (25.9%) or more than 10 years of experience (34.6%).

Vacancies in health care and social assistance have more than doubled since before the pandemic to 126 000.

Meanwhile, trainees continue to enter the field amid reports of chronic understaffing and overwhelm, and escalating workplace violence.

Four in five physicians surveyed by the Canadian Medical Association reported experiencing intimidation, bullying, harassment, or microaggressions at work, with two in five saying they experience abuse at least weekly or monthly. Three in five said their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic. And half of physicians said they are likely to reduce or modify their clinical hours in the next two years.

Trainees undaunted by workforce challenges

Despite these reports, medical schools remain as competitive as ever.

"I haven't really seen students coming in feeling disillusioned," says Marcus Law, associate dean of the University of Toronto's MD program. "From speaking to a lot of our new learners, they actually have a stronger desire to support the system, like this is the right moment for them to come in and advocate."

While many have a "general sense of disappointment" at the harassment and other challenges physicians are facing, Law says most are "still in the honeymoon period" of their own journeys in medicine.

There's also a "strong stigma" related to changing course, Law says. "The stigma from family, the stigma of not reaching your own potential or your own expectations ... can be a lot, especially for first-generation physicians or medical students,...

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