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15th - Jun

CMA launches Wellness Support Line to help physicians and medical learners

In recognition of the unique demands COVID-19 is placing on the medical profession, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is launching a new Wellness Support Line.

Beginning today, this specialized support line will provide 24/7 mental health support and counselling to physicians, residents, medical students and their immediate family, to complement existing resources provided through provincial and territorial physician health programs.

“Even before COVID-19, medicine was a high-stress profession and physician wellness often suffered,” said CMA President Dr. Sandy Buchman. “Today, the pressures have multiplied — a shortage of PPE, demanding hours, changing practice protocols, and the constant threat of contracting the virus can all lead to distress.”

The service will augment the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s Physician Health Program (PHP), which operates in Saskatoon and Regina. The PHP assists physicians, colleagues in training and their families in areas such as mental health, relationship issues, substance abuse and addictions, physical health, and work and family concerns. People with concerns are urged to contact Brenda Senger (306-657-4553 or brenda.senger@sma.sk.ca), Director of Physician Support Programs, or Jessica Richardson, Clinical Coordinator in Regina (306-359-2750 or jessica.richardson@sma.sk.ca).

The CMA’s Wellness Support Line is intended to provide access to those requiring support outside the hours provided by the PHP – after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

“The intent is not to replace the support and assistance offered by the SMA’s PHP, but rather to enhance services and access to support,” Senger said. “Providing off-hour access to support, a basket of options and timely response regardless of the time of day is our hope for this initiative. As a pilot project, we will be able to assess uptake and gather information on present gaps.”

The CMA’s support line, funded by Scotiabank and MD Financial Management, will help provide equitable access to physician wellness supports across Canada.

According to the 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey, 30 per cent of physicians reported high levels of burnout, and one in three physicians screened positive for depression. A recent CMA member survey in April of this year — six weeks after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic — revealed 74 per cent of respondents were experiencing anxiety over PPE supplies.

Wellness Support Line fully bilingual, support offered in multiple languages

The Wellness Support Line is being offered in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Nunavut – through partnerships with the provincial/territorial medical associations in these areas. Other regions in Canada currently offer highly tailored, established services, which will continue to support their physicians.

The support line is the latest in a series of CMA initiatives to support physicians’ well-being and mental health.

Building on the data collected in the National Physician Health Survey, and a subsequent  2019 report on occupational stressors, the CMA established a physician wellness team − led by the former medical director of wellness at the Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Caroline Gérin-Lajoie – and reached out directly to members in 2019 and 2020 about ways to improve their wellness. The need for more supports was a key takeaway.

The Wellness Support Line is fully bilingual, with ongoing support in multiple languages. The service is offered through Morneau Shepell, and all calls are fielded by counsellors trained to address the specific needs of medical professionals. You do not need to be a CMA member to access the service, which begins June 15, 2020.

“On behalf of the Sask. PHP and the SMA, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the CMA, MD Financial Management and Scotiabank for providing this opportunity to Saskatchewan physicians, medical learners and their families,” Senger said. “We appreciate the recognition of the importance of mental health support for the profession.”

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