The largest medical class in Dalhousie University’s history began classes this week in the midst of Nova Scotia’s ongoing health crisis. The 144 students all come from the Maritimes.
Future doctors may have their jobs cut out when they graduate. Chronic problems in health systems in Nova Scotia and across the country made headlines all summer.
CBC spoke to three students about their interest in family medicine, concerns about burnout, and entering a turbulent healthcare system.
Some of the comments have been edited for greater length and clarity.
I’m actually very interested in family medicine. You have two schools of students entering medicine. There are those who want the big cases. They want the tumor, you know, they want that crazy acute disease. And then there are people who are really happy with the daily maintenance. And I’m definitely on that team. I find preventive medicine extremely satisfying.
I think, where I hope to enter a rural setting and hopefully open my own clinic is that I would absolutely have a team. I don’t think you can have a doctor anymore. I think you need the healthcare team. You need a nurse, you need a pharmacist on hand.
I think strong health teams are the future. I think the reason we’re seeing fewer people wanting to go to family medicine is that they not only want cancer, but if I go to family medicine, suddenly I have thousands of patients on my lap. I don’t have time to deal with it and I think it’s daunting. I think it’s more daunting than it should be. I think teamwork is the answer.
Eventually, we’ll all be faced with: “Wow, I feel really exhausted by our system, our healthcare system, too many patients, our aging population.” It is going to happen. I think getting ready is the best I can do.
I mean, we talk about stigma, you know, doctor exhaustion, mental health. All of this is opening up now. It’s not a crime to say, “Hey, I’m really struggling right now.”
And I think it’s going to get even better when I get into a situation where I’m going to say, ‘Yes. Yes, I haven’t been on vacation for a year. I am working 14 hours a day. I signed up for this though, and these people need me. I need help and I think everything will be fine. ‘
I think when I get to the point where I have that conversation, the help available will be more solid. We will be more interdependent on those health teams. I think things are moving in a good direction. Let’s say I’m confident.
Hometown: Vieux Fort, St. Lucia / Halifax
I know the problem doesn’t concern many people [family medicine] that’s why things are getting so hectic. It will only get worse if fewer people actually join.
If I followed that path, I would greatly encourage others that the only way to solve the problem is to face it. So if that means we’re going to be stressed out for a while, it’ll be over.
We should want to be all kinds of doctors. We shouldn’t avoid something just because it’s more stressful.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those doctors who weren’t permanently stationed in one spot. So I’d like to have Nova Scotia as my main base, but I also want to teach.
So, if I were to get involved in some kind of program where we go to different countries to teach different techniques, because I experienced these things while I was at home, and it’s beneficial because not everyone has the opportunity to leave what they ‘re doing and go somewhere else.
But if someone could come and teach all doctors a new technique that has just come out and something they don’t know, they could in turn use it to improve the country.
In a way I take [burnout] as part of the career. Hopefully that’s not something that happens widely. Because sooner or later we will run out, but that’s why I think taking care of yourself from the start and knowing how to fight any kind of stress would be helpful. And generally encourage people to take care of themselves because that’s the only way you can take care of other people too.
It doesn’t change what I want to do or why I want to do it. The only way to really make any kind of adjustments is to get more people into medical school. So it’s nice that they actually increased the capacity. So it might take a while, but at least we’re helping to try and fix the problem.
It’s good to know that I will be part of the change.
Hometown: Chester, NS
I am interested in family medicine. Especially being a pharmacist, we learn all the different diseases and all the different drugs used to treat the different diseases.
Many doctors just tell you to keep an open mind because we will be exposed to so many different specialties and something may pique my interest that I may have had no idea of existence or that I may not have realized that I would be interested. So I think mainly family medicine is what I aim for, what I am keeping an open mind and other avenues I am pursuing would be like anesthesia or hematology.
We hear in the news of a more collaborative practice. So work as a team with inner professionals.
If I have a question, I would like to go to a colleague to be able to help ask for advice, especially when I am starting my career or other specialty. Suppose there is a psychologist or psychiatrist who also works in that building and it would be nice to be able to talk to them and learn more from them. So, I think, like many new doctors, it can be a little daunting to go out alone.
I first worked as a pharmacist in my home community where I grew up, so I have been one of the most successful healthcare professionals. So I’ve seen so many patients in my community and I’ve seen how important family doctors are and I think my main thing is that I just want to help my community and that’s something I love to do. It’s something I’m good at and I’m really excited to learn.