“Physician, heal thyself” is an ancient proverb that Dr. Sandy Buchman takes to heart.
Among Buchman’s priorities as the new president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the health and wellbeing of its 71,000-plus members.
In a CJN interview following his appointment this month, Buchman, who’s been a family doctor for 37 years, identified physician burnout as a significant problem in the medical and related health-care professions.
“It’s particularly severe among doctors – increased incidence of depression, even suicide,” said Buchman, 64. “And this extends all the way up from undergraduate medical education through post-graduate residency and fellowship programs, through to practicing physicians.”
He sees “a direct link” from that to patient and clinical outcomes.
“There’s really good evidence that when doctors aren’t well, the quality of care that is provided is poor,” Buchman said. “We really see physician health and wellness as a priority. Physicians are human beings. We’re humans caring for humans.”
Last spring, the CMA launched what it called the first project of its kind: a comprehensive, national analysis on the state of “physician wellness supports and structures” throughout the country.
“Up to now, it’s all been increasing physician resiliency: better work-life balance, more exercise, better diet, more sleep, which is sometimes impossible in the environment in which we work,” Buchman went on. “We’re often pulled in all directions (and) the volume of patients that we need to see is huge.”
Doctors often find themselves in a catch. “It’s very difficult to turn down a person who is suffering. You know you need to be able to ultimately function. At the same time, you have this person pleading for your assistance and you’re the one that can help. It’s a tough grind,” he said.
He’s a proponent of a management skill called compassionate leadership and plans to put it to work to support doctors.
“When you have someone else’s back and when you’re attending to the difficulties that (doctors) are going through, you create an environment of support,” said Buchman.
A past president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Buchman said he acquired a sense of compassion and understanding as a specialist in palliative care, a field in which he’s become a recognized leader.
Since 2005, he has provided home-based end-of-life care through Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, the CMA noted in announcing his presidency. He also works for a palliative care program in downtown Toronto through Inner City Health Associates, “which helps ease the pain, symptoms and psychosocial needs of the homeless,” the CMA noted.
Earlier this year, he was named the inaugural holder of the Freeman Family Chair in Palliative Care at North York General Hospital. The clinical position is said to be the first of its kind at a hospital in Canada.
As well, Buchman is a founder and director of Neshama Hospice, which will be Canada’s only freestanding Jewish-themed hospice. The 10-bed facility, to be located in the area of Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue in Toronto, has raised $11 million of a “chai campaign” of $18 million.
“We have beautiful designs,” he said of Neshama. “We’re just finishing off with some of the zoning issues and we’re really going to focus on a campaign to get us to the finish line.”
Buchman said his Jewish values will inform his position at the CMA.
“It’s really that whole sense of trying to give back to my community – not only the Jewish community, but the larger community – to be seen as a Jewish person contributing to the Jewish community and to the larger community,” he said. “It’s those values of really belonging to the Jewish people, belonging to a people who really care and to want to do right in the world.”