Six months into her first year of residency, Dr. Himani Dhar has dreams of being a full-time family doctor — but longstanding issues within the field have already become quite clear to her.
“It can be overwhelming sometimes … I’m finding burnout is quite common,” said Dhar, who studied at the University of Windsor before moving to London for medical school and Kingston for post-graduate residency.
Dhar is pursuing family medicine at a time when 1.8 million Ontarians are without a family doctor, according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) — a number that is expected to grow over the next few years.
But while Dhar sees many positive outcomes in becoming a family doctor, the 27-year-old says her first-hand experience in the field has shown her why so few medical school students are pursuing the same path as her.
“Particularly in family medicine, a lot of burnout tends to be associated with having to do so many administrative tasks,” said Dhar.
Administrative burden has been a longstanding issue in family medicine, according to the OCFP. Dhar says, after spending a full day attending to patients, she and her peers often spend hours afterward on “extra paperwork and documentation.”
“So it’s less time you could be allocating to spending time with friends and family and less time taking care of yourself. When you go through that every day, it does tend to take a toll,” said Dhar.
That toll is being felt by family doctors of all experience levels, according to Windsor-based family physician Dr. Jennifer Bondy who sits on the OCFP’s board of directors.
The result she said, is fewer medical school students giving family medicine a chance.
“At the end of medical school, students have the opportunity to select what kind of speciality training they would like to go on to pursue. That’s called the CaRMS match. Last year, we saw an increasing number of positions going unfilled,” said Bondy.
“About 86 per cent of the positions that were unfilled by the end of the second match were in family medicine.”
Dr. Jennifer Bondy, board member for the Ontario College of Family Physicians, says it is become increasingly challenging to encourage medical school students to specialize in family medicine. Pictured in Windsor, Ont., on Jan. 26, 2023. (Sanjay Maru/CTV News Windsor)There are a multitude of inefficient administrative tasks that family doctors have to do, such as completing multiple forms, which could be consolidated to save time, according to Bondy.
However, other solutions need to be implemented to make family medicine more appealing, she added.
Bondy suggests that team-based care, where a variety of healthcare workers, including social workers, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists provide care to patients, which would allow family doctors to focus on the patients who need them the most.
She also suggests if an additional 1,000 healthcare workers were added to the medical system, it would go a long way in relieving pressures that family doctors are currently facing — as many have maxed out their patient load.
“I love what I do and I think there are a lot of incoming medical students who would like to do something similar,” said Bondy.
“But that comes down to having an opportunity to practice medicine and to speak with patients and see them face-to-face… as opposed to having to work away with some of these inefficient administrative processes.”
As for Dhar, she wants people to know that family doctors are trying their best to accommodate the needs of their patients. She said the realization of filling such a dire need is amplified during conversations with people outside the field.
“When I’m talking to people who recognize that I’m a doctor, they’ll make comments like, ‘Can you be my family doctor?’ So we’re very aware there is a shortage and there is such a great importance to the field.”
Despite the early challenges, Dhar is constantly reminding herself why she wanted to pursue family medicine in the first place.
“It really makes you a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to medicine. You have to know a bit of everything,” said Dhar.
“You get to establish a relationship with your patients over a long period of time. You really get to watch them grow and you’re able to help them in all phases of life.”