Survey Reveals Alarming Rate of Physician Mistreatment

A new survey has found that nearly six in 10 doctors have experienced incidents of mistreatment over the last month, including verbal abuse, threats, online bullying and physical assault. The escalation in mistreatment is adding to stress and burnout that was already reaching concerning levels earlier this year. 

We are asking all Manitobans to please be kind and respectful to physicians and other health care workers who are trying to provide care under very difficult conditions,” said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, President of Doctors Manitoba. COVID-19 has been hard for everyone. Whether you are frustrated with pandemic restrictions or you are facing long wait times to get a medical test or surgery, please don’t take these frustrations out on doctors. They care about your well-being and they are advocating for you each and every day.”

Doctors Manitoba conducted a survey of physicians over the last several weeks and found:

  • 57% experienced incidents of mistreatment over the previous month.
  • More than half of incidents (52%) appear to be linked to the pandemic in some way.
  • Incidents are happening more frequently than a year ago, with 59% of physicians reporting increased frequency.
  • Most incidents occurred in doctors’ offices or hospitals, though there were some incidents that occurred on social media, in public places and at physicians’ homes. 

Incidents of mistreatment appear to occur more frequently among physicians who are women, BIPOC, or working in family medicine. Physicians located in rural communities experienced mistreatment more frequently too. 

I’ve worked in the Southern health region for decades and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Don Klassen, a family physician working in Winkler and at Boundary Trails Health Centre. I’ve heard from several physicians who are considering early retirement or relocation at least in part because of the threats and verbal abuse they’ve faced. Please know that physicians are going through this pandemic with you, every step of the way, and we’ll get through this together.” 

In addition to a public appeal for kindness and respect, physicians are very encouraged by the passage of Bill C‑3 in Ottawa last week, legislation that will protect health workers and patients from threats, violence and harassment. Doctors Manitoba joined the Canadian Medical Association in pressing for legislative action, following a growing number of incidents and protests earlier this year. 

The survey results from Manitoba echo the stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse we have heard from physicians across Canada,” said Dr. Katharine Smart, President of the Canadian Medical Association. This kind of hateful behaviour is unacceptable in our health system. The legislation passed by the federal government last week was unfortunately required to ensure the safety of health workers. We greatly appreciate the support and kindness of the great majority of Canadians who understand how hard we are working to provide care to our patients.”

The new legislation amends the Criminal Code of Canada to make it illegal for people to intimidate health care workers, impede access to medical facilities, or intimidate people accessing health services, including COVID-19 vaccinations. The new offences carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. 

We are also calling on the provincial government and health system leaders to reinforce the need for respect and safety in medical facilities,” added Dr. Thompson. Doctors Manitoba published a safety guide earlier this year for physicians and health care organizations. 

You can access the full survey report here. Information about the CMA’s advocacy and support for federal Bill C‑3 is available here.