Despite signs of improvement, more must be done to keep physicians in province: Doctors Manitoba report

Widespread burnout, administrative burdens and not feeling valued are all working against Manitoba’s efforts to keep physicians from leaving the province to work elsewhere, a report from Doctors Manitoba says.

The new report from the group, which advocates for physicians in Manitoba, echoes concerns raised before about the need to prioritize retaining doctors.

The report, based on results from the group’s Manitoba Annual Physician Survey, says more needs to be done to reduce the number of early retirements and stop physicians from leaving the province to work in other jurisdictions.

The survey received responses from about 35 per cent of licensed physicians in Manitoba.

Dr. Randy Guzman, president of Doctors Manitoba, said the organization supports the NDP’s target of adding 100 doctors to the province this year through recruitment and retention efforts.

“However, every day that passes without concrete improvements in place is another day of missed new recruits and seeing existing doctors move away,” Guzman said in a statement.

Doctors Manitoba is holding a news conference via Zoom at 2 p.m. to provide more information about the report.

Manitoba could lose 688 doctors

The organization says nearly half (about 46 per cent) of the doctors who did the survey are thinking about moving to another province, retiring early or reducing their hours in the next three years.

In light of this, the group fears Manitoba could lose one-fifth of its doctors — about 688 — from the system over the next three years.

They believe three-quarters of that potential loss would be a result of “systemic or institutional issues” that could be headed off with the right interventions.

When the 2024-25 budget was announced in April, the NDP committed to hiring 100 new physicians this year as part of a $310-million pledge to add 1,000 health-care workers to Manitoba over the next year. The province also adopted Doctors Manitoba’s recommendation to reach the Canadian per capita average number of physicians within five years.

Manitoba would need to add 445 physicians to reach the per capita average, the new report says. It also says on average, 213 doctors start practising in Manitoba annually, but 153 leave for other jurisdictions or retirement.

The health minister said in April that 44 doctors were added in 2023, and historically the most added in a single year in Manitoba was 83.

In 2022, Manitoba had the lowest per capita growth rate in the number of physicians compared to other Canadian provinces, despite net growth in the number of doctors in Manitoba each year since 2012.

A report out last fall from the Canadian Institute for Health Information said Manitoba had the second-lowest number of physicians per capita in Canada.

The main barriers to retention include physician burnout, the new report says: 46 per cent of doctors who responded to the survey said they’re burned out, while 54 per cent were experiencing distress.

The results suggest the needle may be moving in the right direction on some fronts: there have been modest reductions in the percentage of physicians feeling burned out or in distress and in the percentage planning to leave.

While only a quarter (18 to 26 per cent) of the physicians said they felt valued by the provincial government, their regional health authority or Shared Health, which co-ordinates health-care delivery in the province, that’s an improvement.

Only 18 per cent felt valued by government, but that’s better than the 10 per cent in the previous report; 22 per cent said they felt marginally more positive toward Shared Health, up from 17 per cent; and 26 per cent felt more valued by their regional health authority, compared to 24 per cent.

About 58 per cent of the physicians said they’d recommend Manitoba to out-of-province colleagues looking for work, compared to 50 per cent in the last annual survey.

About a third (31 per cent) reported feeling like their workplace culture was “generally positive,” while a fifth (19 per cent) said they feel the health system is responsive to the concerns of physicians.

And though 64 per cent of physicians reported feeling satisfied with their quality of work life, up from 56 per cent last year, the report also says doctors who are not satisfied are 11 times more likely to plan to leave Manitoba

“While the numbers are still very concerning when it comes to our physician shortage, our findings suggest Manitoba may be turning the corner as we see early signs of improvement that could help with recruitment and retention,” Dr. Guzman said in a statement.