More must be done to stop the bleeding as Manitoba risks losing hundreds of doctors in next 3 years: report

Healing the doctor shortage in Manitoba will be all the more difficult should nearly 700 physicians head elsewhere to practise, reduce their hours or hang up the stethoscope for retirement in the next three years as they’ve suggested they will, according to a new report from Doctors Manitoba.

The report from the physician advocacy group, released Thursday, echoes concerns raised before about the need to prioritize retaining doctors by addressing issues like widespread burnout rates, administrative burdens and workplace culture.

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.

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

“Premier [Wab] Kinew and Health Minister [Uzoma] Asagwara have hit the nail on the head when they say a change in culture is needed in health care,” said Guzman. “I agree with them that the front-line feedback must be prioritized, but we do have a long way to go.”

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

The organization says nearly half of respondents (about 46 per cent) said they 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.

Doctors Manitoba believes 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.

A man with short hair, black-framed glasses, a dark suit and bluish neck tie stands behind a lectern with a microphone.
Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Randy Guzman said Manitoba needs to see a 10 per cent increase in recruitment and 10 per cent improvement in physician retention in order to hit the provincial government’s goal of adding 100 physicians to Manitoba’s net total within a year. (Doctors Manitoba/Zoom)

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.

Asagwara 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 over the results from the previous year.

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.

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

“While these numbers are concerning, they do help us understand what has to change: it starts with engaging physicians as partners and involving them in fixing challenges in the health-care system,” he said.

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.

“We believe these are early signs that Manitoba is turning the corner,” said Guzman.

“But we have to work together to pick up the pace to improve the care for Manitobans who are waiting unreasonably long lengths of time in the ERs, who can’t get their surgery done and are on a long waitlist, or can’t get their tests done soon enough, or simply can’t find a family doctor.”