‘Burnout is inevitable’: Regina family physician to close clinic, as COVID-19 highlights challenges in healthcare

A family doctor in Regina is joining a growing list of physicians leaving the province, or profession as a whole, after a demanding two years of the pandemic.

Dr. Tomi Mitchell has owned and operated the Pasqua South Medical Center for the last ten years. On Tuesday, she posted a letter to social media announcing she is closing the clinic and leaving her profession.

“It was just incident, after incident, after incident,” she said.

“Burnout is inevitable and if you don’t take care of burnout that leads to anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges.”

Burnout is just one of the reasons Mitchell said she is leaving. On a personal level, she wants to be there for her family de ella, after she admitted she has spent too many times choosing patient needs over her family de ella.

From a professional standpoint, Mitchell said the “system is not functional and patients cannot access quality care in a timely manner.”

She pointed to the healthcare staff shortage, increasing expectations during the pandemic and poor financial compensation as other deciding factors.

“I’m doing a profession that I love, but without the support that we need to do a good job and the increasing expectations and threats to our safety worsened by the pandemic,” she said, adding she feels disrespected by the government for the way officials handled the pandemic.

Mitchell is compensated through fee-for-service payments, rather than a salary, which makes her an “active” general practitioner, according to the Ministry of Health.

Statistical reports from the ministry show an eight per cent decline in active general practitioners from 2018/19 to 2020/21, which translates to a decrease of 82 fee-for-service doctors province wide.

Active general practitioners in rural areas saw a greater decline, with an 11 per cent drop in the same time period. However, the total number of physicians in the province, including those who are salaried, went up by 145 from 4,379 to 4,524.

NDP leader Ryan Meili said it is concerning that doctors are leaving the province and, in some cases, the profession.

“Family doctors are the backbone of our medical system. We cannot have a functioning specialist system with not enough family doctors,” Meili said.

Meili is calling on the government to commit to a health human resource strategy that would be developed with the help of frontline workers.

According to Health Minister Paul Merriman, the government is looking to increase health care staffing levels by recruiting nationally and internationally. The government is also working with the College of Medicine to increase its admission seats.

“What we need to really look at is maximizing our healthcare system adding into the virtual care, what we do in rural and remote areas,” Merriman said.

In terms of compensation, Merriman said the government needs to decide which method of payment—salary or fee-for-service—works best in each community.

According to Mitchell, fee-for-service doctors are underpaid and often work many extra hours for free.

“A lot of us family physicians do unpaid work everyday,” she said.

“Even if you aren’t seeing patients there is still paperwork, charts to review and documents to see that is not paid.”

She said extra funding to fee-for-service clinics could help physicians hire more staff, which would lead to better patient care and less burnout. She wants the government to invest in the people already here, rather than the time-intensive process of hiring out of province.

“Maybe they should invest in the clinics that are already built, like this one,” she said.

Mitchell said she does not see herself returning to the medical profession in its current form.

She is reducing the office hours at Pasqua South Medical Center and plans to close the practice in the next 90 days.

Mitchell is encouraging all of her patients to start looking for another family physician sooner rather than later.

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