‘We need this to stop’: Doctors Manitoba sounds alarm over rise in abuse and mistreatment of physicians

Physicians are facing a rise in abuse and mistreatment in the province, which Doctors Manitoba says is contributing to stress and burnout, and is impacting the province’s ability to recruit new physicians.

On Monday, Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba, said nearly six in 10 physicians have experienced abuse and mistreatment in the past month including threats, verbal abuse, bullying and physical assault.

“We need this to stop,” Thompson said.

Doctors Manitoba conducted an online survey of 403 physicians in November and found that 57 per cent have experienced mistreatment in the past month, with more than half of the incidents linked to the pandemic.

“These are alarming statistics that are contributing to an already concerning level of stress and burn out in the medical profession,” Thompson said.

“We are worried about what they mean to the recruitment and retention of physicians across this province.”

He said Doctors Manitoba has heard of cases where physicians were yelled at, pushed, spit on, and had threatening letters delivered to their homes or left on their vehicles.

Thompson said most of these incidents happened in doctors’ offices or hospitals, but not all. He said some incidents happened on social media, in public places or at a physicians’ home.

“We are seeing these incidents and episodes sort of spilling into our personal environments, which is very troubling and scary,” he said.

“(This) contributes to a workforce that is already just so stressed and burnt out after nearly two years in this pandemic. So it is taking a toll – a very significant toll.”

The survey also found harassment and abuse of health care workers is happening more frequently among women, BIPOC and family doctors in rural areas.

The environment has prompted some doctors in Southern Manitoba to leave their jobs.

Dr. Don Klassen, a rural family physician from the Winkler area, said he is aware of several physicians who plan to leave next spring or summer.

“I think at least in part it has to do with the current environment,” Klassen. “The other side of that is, to replace those three physicians and perhaps add another three becomes increasingly hard and more difficult in this kind of environment.”

He said recruitment will become more difficult than it was in the past. 

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