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The government is letting our future physicians down

This past Saturday, the front page of the Toronto Star revealed the tragic story of Dr. Robert Chu, who struggled with Canada’s broken medical education system before taking his own life.Robert’s story is not an anomaly; it is emblematic of a deeper problem that threatens the future of Canada’s health care system by ignoring — or worse, abusing — doctors-in-training, and it’s only getting worse.Provincial belt-tightening has led to a decrease in resident doctor positions, the apprenticeship new doctors must complete to be licensed to practice medicine. This decline has made it more difficult to ensure all medical students are matched to a residency program.This year, a record-high 68 graduates were left unmatched by the Canadian Resident Matching Service, and offered little explanation as to why. Those left unmatched face overwhelming stigma, as Dr. Chu described before his death. Some are shut out of a medical career altogether.The mental health impacts of this are clear; a JAMA study showed that one in four medical students face depression, nearly all experience burnout, and they are more prone to car crashes on their way home from shifts. Unfortunately for many of these students, personal and mental health supports are lacking.Article Continued BelowThe impacts of dwindling positions have carried over to affect resident doctors. Increasing demands for health care, with fewer residents, means more work split between fewer people. In some Ontario cities, a single resident covers patients at three or four hospitals for up to 30 consecutive hours, only to be asked to work the following morning without any sleep. The idea of seeing a call room bed on a 30-hour shift is now a concept of the past.Rules set in place to protect patients from exhausted residents are frequently ignored to keep up with rising demand, creating an environment ripe for errors. The Libby Zion case, in which overworked residents were blamed for the death of a young woman in a New York hospital, led to increased focus on resident workloads in the U.S., but yielded less action in Canada.Fortunately, Canada’s medical students and residents have been on the forefront of trying to address these issues. Resident Doctors of Canada, a national advocacy group, has developed a Resiliency Training Program based upon a curriculum credited to the U.S. Navy Seals and Canadian Forces. The goal is to help young doctors manage the life-or-death pressures and emotional stresses faced during medical training.

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