I am a new physician in my first year of practice. I joined a family practice in Mississauga in January 2020. Like so many other new physicians, I was very excited to start working, move forward with my life and finally be financially and medically independent as so many young physicians are post residency after years and years of studying.
I worked hard, building relationships with my patients and genuinely enjoyed the interactions but within 2 months of starting at the clinic, the COVID-19 situation started, all non-essential visits were cancelled, and my clinic switched to telephone visits only. Currently, I think it is a very GOOD day if I can manage to call ten patients. Every day, I still make the trip to our office, not because I do not have the option to call/work from home as so many people do, but to accommodate my few individual patients who still need me and those situations where someone still needs to be seen. I come in to do the stitches on the elderly man who fell and cut his hand but states he will put up with it and is too scared to go to the emergency department and be exposed. I head in for the pregnant women who need their follow-up care or the newborn babies who need their vaccinations for protection.
All the while, we do this without adequate PPE and being just as terrified ourselves of being exposed. We do this, because we know these are our most vulnerable populations and we are putting them at greater risk by not seeing them.
Our clinic signed up for OTN, but I have not seen any patients on there yet. This is not for lack of trying, I spoke with the OTN representative for our area and she helped to set me up for the virtual clinic Ontario launched but so did 900 other doctors, while only 200 were accepted. These 900 doctors, along with myself, are all desperately looking for ways to keep their practices open. I signed up for COVID assessment centres (despite being terrified that there is not enough PPE to protect me from bringing the virus home).
While I acknowledge everyone is suffering, clinics are hit hard because they have to stay open and support their employees and patients. I am concerned in my position that on top of a greatly reduced patient load, I still have to pay overhead to the clinic (again, who deserve it and need to employ staff) but I also need enough money left over to pay student loans, the gas and insurance I use everyday to come check up on my patients and every other bill I have in my daily life.
In these uncertain times, we are living day to day, figuring out what will come next, however we should also look to the future. A future with local clinics shut down and a greater burden placed on the emergency rooms is not one we will easily recover from, nor will our patients.
Dr. Navneet Randhawa