Worth noting: Physician health, member engagement

November 24, 2020

Dr. Paul Boucher, AMA President

Dear Members:

Supporting physician health 

We have all been watching the seemingly unabated rise in COVID-19 cases with increasing concern. There is little doubt that if we continue on this path, more severe restrictions are inevitable. In the meantime, the AMA encourages all Albertans to do their part by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, hand washing and following all public health guidance that may be forthcoming.  

Physicians, along with our allied health colleagues should be proud of the role we play in caring for Albertans in the midst of this pandemic. We are all trying to adapt to changing circumstances while consistently going above and beyond to ensure we are providing the same high-quality care we have always delivered. As we journey through these extraordinary times, it is important to recognize the stresses we have all been facing. I have heard from members who have experienced significant strain related to reductions in revenue affecting the viability of their practice. Others are anxious about getting infected and the impact this might have, not only on their own health, but on that of their families. Some are concerned about their practices, patients and the burden placed on their colleagues when they are required to self-isolate. The surge in patients with mental illness related to factors such as isolation and the economy, have added to the emotional burden ever present when caring for others.

While some of the civic altruism experienced in the beginning of the pandemic appears to have waned, the public remains steadfast in their gratitude for the work you do. This support and the noble nature of our calling is foundational in sustaining us through challenging times, but we all know there is much more to staying well. We all have different aspects in our lives that we draw upon to get us through difficult times. For many, this strength comes from those that are closest to us: our safety net. Not everyone has this to draw upon, though. Even for those who do, there are times when stress becomes overwhelming. Please remember, we can always turn to the Physician and Family Support Program.  

For decades, this internationally recognized program has quietly provided confidential support 24/7, 365 days a year on all aspects of physician health. A small cadre of dedicated staff, a caring team of peer counsellors and a province-wide network of experienced therapists have helped thousands of physicians, resident physicians and medical students to stay on their feet or, when they have fallen, to get back up again.   

Never has the demand been so high, or the need so acute as it is this year. Access to the assistance line is up 15% year-over-year. There has been a 32% increase in the number of complex cases requiring coordinated services. Total counselling hours from January to September 2020 are up 14%. A deep need is being met – and that need is only increasing. 

Government has indicated that the program will be due for a review before March 31, 2021. There will be more to say about that process later. For today, let’s praise the excellent, essential and compassionate skill set of the individuals who are serving the program at an extraordinary level. They deserve our greatest respect and gratitude.  

Every member of the AMA has been impacted by the pandemic. Our work lives have been disrupted, our incomes have shrunk (or disappeared completely for periods of time), our businesses have been destabilized and we have been at risk, along with our families, every day. This is life with COVID-19. Other Albertans are experiencing the same effects, in their own contexts. These are hard times and dark days for our millions of neighbors and patients.  

Phone calls, emails and social media posts all paint a general picture for me of the pressures on the profession. I invite you to let me know how you are doing, too. It’s important to understand what members are experiencing. You can reach me at president@albertadoctors.org

As always, if you are in distress and need support, please call PFSP at 1-877-767-4637 (SOS-4MDS). 

Webinars and supporting members 

Webinars and online learning are allowing increasing numbers of AMA members to access information and support for the issues they are facing. On November 18, we launched a bi-weekly session titled Adapting to Increasing COVID Care Needs in Your Practice. On November 27, members can access a Virtual Q & A session about Wolf and Med Access EMRs. Past sessions are available on our growing webinar archive page, including: Living with the Sunshine List; Physician Wellness – Feeling Distress, Understanding Loss and Finding Meaning; Clinical ARPs 101 and more.  

Additional sessions are in development and we will be rolling these out regularly. In the last seven months, 3,517 members have attended one or more of our webinars or online meetings. We have registered over 9,000 attendee sessions over the course of 17 webinars and 70% of those who register, show up to participate. 

We are pleased to be able to provide what is clearly a valued service. If you have suggestions or requests for content, please let me know.  

Membership renewal is climbing steadily. As of this week we are at 97% of where we were this time last year. Thank you for the continued demonstration of unity and support! If you haven’t renewed yet, I encourage you to Stand With Us and do so today.

Your comments are welcome in the following ways:

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply: president@albertadoctors.org  
  • Comment publicly on this President’s Letter on the AMA website (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member). 

Sincerely,

Paul E. Boucher, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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