Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be here today to speak to Bill S-248, an act respecting national physicians’ day.
The hon. Art Eggleton introduced this bill in the other place prior to his retirement. I would like to thank him, as well as the member for Vancouver Centre, who is herself a physician and the bill's sponsor in the House, for bringing this forward.
Bill S-248 seeks to designate May 1 of each and every year national physicians’ day. During debate in the Senate, Senator Eggleton indicated that this date is significant for physicians, because it is the birthday of Emily Stowe, the first woman to practice medicine in Canada and a leading suffragette in her time. How appropriate that the bill is being sponsored in the House by the member for Vancouver Centre, the longest serving female member of the House and a trailblazer both as a physician and an elected official. There are few people in this country who have done as much for those living with HIV/AIDS than this member, who is now focusing her efforts on the opioid crisis. Canada is a better place for her service, both as a physician advocate and a member of Parliament.
Should this bill receive royal assent, the federal government would replicate nationally the actions of Ontario and Nova Scotia, which at the provincial level already designate a Doctors' Day at the beginning of May. In designating such a day, Canada would join a number of other countries, including the United States and India, which already set aside similar days for the recognition of physicians.
The bill's intent is to acknowledge the contributions of physicians to the health of Canadians and to increase public awareness of the role they play in providing high-quality care. As is well known, it is a point of pride among Canadians that we live in a country fortunate enough to have a world-class medical system. Clearly, physicians are integral to the viability of this system.
In 2017, there were over 86,000 physicians in Canada, representing 234 physicians per 100,000 people. It is interesting to note that in recent years, the profession has become increasingly female and multicultural. Women now account for 41% of physicians in Canada, while those who acquired their medical degrees elsewhere constitute 26.5% of all physicians in this country.
I recently met with a group of medical students, led by Stephanie Smith, a former army nurse who twice served in Afghanistan and just days ago graduated as a doctor from medical school. Stephanie and her colleagues are the future of medicine, and these future physicians give me great hope.
Everyone in this chamber has at one point or another been touched by the compassion and the professionalism of a physician. Just last month, when I fainted in this House, we saw three physicians jump into action to attend to me. Speaking today to this bill gives me the opportunity to publicly thank the members for Toronto—St. Paul's, Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley and Markham—Stouffville for their prompt attention, care and concern.
Physicians, going back to Hippocrates and the foundations of the modern medical profession in ancient Greece, are guided by a set of ethics whose central tenets are to do no harm, to show respect for the patient in all situations and to always help when help is needed.
Physicians affect every stage of life. They are central figures at times of birth and death. They are the specialists we seek out during periods of crisis, and they are the family doctors we rely on to manage day-to-day illness. They work collaboratively with other health professionals, such as nurses, both in and out of the hospital setting, to advance the well-being of their patients. They are often the researchers who are at the forefront of many innovations that are helping us live longer and healthier lives and that give us hope for the future.
I think of people like Dr. Duncan Rozario, head of surgery at Oakville Hospital, whose innovations in Oakville are leading the country in many areas, from changing the way opioids are prescribed to the mental health of the hospital's employees, all of which ensure better patient outcomes.
I have had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Dr. David Malkin, a Terry Fox-funded researcher at Sick Kids, in Toronto. Dr. Malkin's research is focused on genetic predisposition to cancer, specifically childhood cancer, and he is a world-leading expert on Li-Fraumeni syndrome. He has graciously hosted me at Sick Kids twice now, and I had the great privilege of joining him for rounds and clinic back in April. What a gift to be able to witness his team of physicians and health care providers attend to these young people and their families.
We must also be aware that the privileged place that physicians hold in our society also brings with it enormous responsibilities and pressures. This is why, in addition to celebrating physicians, the bill also aims to draw attention to the challenges they sometimes face by virtue of what we ask of them. While extremely fulfilling, a medical career can sometimes also entail immense psychological burdens. Physicians operate in an environment that emphasizes self-reliance and resiliency. They work long hours, are frequently on call, and bear an enormous amount of responsibility, often in extremely stressful situations.
As is the case for our first responders, physicians also frequently encounter emotionally draining and difficult situations that can lead to forms of psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress injuries.
Given these factors, it is perhaps not surprising that research on the profession has consistently shown that physicians are at a greater risk of suffering from mental health problems than many other professions. For instance, the Canadian Medical Association's “National Physician Health Survey” recently found that although most physicians self-reported their mental health as good, fully 34% reported symptoms of depression and 26% also reported feeling burned out.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that physicians have a high suicide rate when compared to other occupations. The Canadian Medical Association's health survey also found that 9% of physicians had reported suicidal thoughts within the last 12 months.
The Standing Committee on Health just commenced a study on violence against health care professionals. We have heard from physicians about the violence that they can be subjected to, in particular in emergency rooms and hospitals. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Alan Drummond, an emergency room doctor and passionate advocate for saving lives by recognizing the impact of firearms on suicide and intimate partner violence. He is someone who sees every day the impact on physicians of the challenges they face in their workplace and the need to do more to support them.
Senator Mégie, who is herself a physician, said during debate on this bill in the other place, that a career spent in the service of others can make it very difficult to accept the need to ask for help for oneself.
A national physicians' day could perhaps, in a small way, provide an occasion to help and reverse this tendency by allowing Canadians to collectively celebrate and express their appreciation for the extraordinary dedication of these medical professionals. It could also serve as a means for a sort of role reversal, by permitting society to assume the role of the caregiver, signalling that we do not take the contributions of physicians for granted, are interested in their well-being and are in solidarity with the difficulties they face. Possibly through the avenue that a national day would provide, broader discussions could begin on these and other important issues.
The subject is of great interest to the Minister of Health, and the government is very pleased to support this motion. I want to reiterate my thanks to the member for Vancouver Centre for sponsoring this bill, and to the House for the opportunity to reflect on its importance as we move forward with reviewing it in greater detail.
I look forward to further discussion on what a national physicians' day would look like, and appreciate its overall aim to support and express gratitude to physicians in Canada. Finally, I would like to thank physicians across Canada for all that they do for us.