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Are Canadian and US Healthcare Workers Overworked?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of strain on healthcare systems around the world, including those in Canada and the United States. A pressing question that arises is: Are healthcare workers overworked?

Healthcare workers in both countries have been greatly affected by this crisis, with many of them being overworked. 

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), recent data shows that healthcare workers have been working extra hours during the second year of the pandemic more than any other time in the past ten years. 

In this article, we will explore the extent of this problem, specifically focusing on how healthcare workers are overworked and how it affects healthcare professionals, patient care, and the healthcare system as a whole.

Increasing Overtime and Workloads of Healthcare workers Overworked

In 2021, a significant number of healthcare workers in Canada were working overtime, according to the CIHI (Canadian Institute for Health Information). This means they were working extra hours beyond their regular shifts. The data shows that more than one in five healthcare workers had logged overtime. 

Healthcare Workers Overworked

Causes and Impact

  1. Workforce shortages: There is a shortage of healthcare professionals, which puts additional pressure on the existing workforce to meet the growing demand for services.
  2. Rising demand for services: The demand for healthcare services has increased, particularly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This increased demand further strains healthcare workers and leads to longer working hours.
  3. Pandemic-related backlogs: The backlog of postponed or delayed medical procedures and treatments during the pandemic has created a need to catch up on missed healthcare services. This adds to the workload of healthcare professionals.
  4. Filling gaps left by other professionals: Healthcare professionals often have to fill gaps in the system left by other professionals who may be unavailable or facing shortages. This results in an overwhelming workload for those healthcare workers.
  5. System-wide crisis: Rising overtime among healthcare professionals is seen as a signal of a larger crisis within the healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, leading to increased workloads and burnout among healthcare workers.

Healthcare Workers Overworked

Physicians and Burnout

The issue of healthcare workers overworked and underpaid extends to family physicians as well. A survey conducted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) revealed that nearly half of family doctors reported working beyond their desired capacity. 

Those working beyond capacity experienced high levels of work-related burnout and were more likely to consider reducing their clinical hours or taking a break from work. In Ontario, doctors do not receive paid overtime, but a significant percentage of physicians reported burnout, according to a survey by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).

Solutions and Call for Action

Fair Compensation for Administrative Work

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) stress the importance of providing fair compensation for the administrative tasks performed by healthcare professionals. Recognizing and compensating them adequately for these additional responsibilities can help alleviate their workload.

Improved Work-life Balance through Policy Changes

Policy changes are needed to promote better work-life balance for healthcare professionals. This can include implementing regulations that limit working hours, provide sufficient rest periods between shifts, and ensure adequate time off for rest and recovery.

Integration of Digital Health Tools

The use of digital health tools can streamline workflows and reduce the administrative burden on healthcare professionals. The OMA and CFNU advocate for the integration of these tools into healthcare systems to improve efficiency and reduce workload.

Improved Working Conditions

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and other healthcare organizations are calling for improved working conditions for healthcare professionals. This includes addressing issues such as workplace safety, adequate staffing levels, and supportive environments that promote professional well-being.

Coordinated Action

Previous ad hoc and time-limited efforts to address overwork and burnout have proven ineffective. Coordinated action involving government bodies, healthcare organizations, and professional associations is necessary to bring about meaningful and sustainable change in the healthcare system.

Collaboration and long-term strategies are crucial for addressing the root causes of overwork and creating a healthier work environment for healthcare professionals.

Protests and Strikes

The dire conditions faced by healthcare workers overworked have led to protests and strikes across Canada. Nurses, who are particularly affected, have been vocal about their concerns, with a significant number considering leaving their jobs due to the strain. 

Similar labor concerns have been observed globally, with strikes occurring in the United Kingdom and other countries facing staffing shortages and high rates of burnout among healthcare workers.

Wrapping Up

The issue of overworked healthcare workers in Canada and the United States is a pressing concern that demands immediate attention. The increasing workload, rising over time, and subsequent burnout among overworked healthcare workers have far-reaching implications for patient care and the sustainability of healthcare systems. 

System-level changes, fair compensation, and improved working conditions are crucial to alleviate the burden on healthcare workers and ensure the delivery of high-quality care to patients. Without significant efforts to address these issues, the healthcare system may face further strain and potential collapse.


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