14 Oct 2021

Pasifika GP's face pandemic burnout

4:23 pm on 14 October 2021

Pasifika GPs on the front lines of the Covid-19 Delta outbreak in Aotearoa say they're on the brink of burn-out.

The front line workers helping protect Aotearoa from the virus say they're overworked and exhausted, and their own mental health is at risk.

Dr Maryann Heather

Dr Maryann Heather Photo: Pasifika Medical Association Group

After working as a GP for Pacific health provider South Seas Healthcare for a decade, Dr Maryann Heather has called it quits.

She said she experienced burn out while working on the frontlines during the pandemic, and that was the final straw.

"Cause I can't keep running at 100km's an hour, I've got to make those life choices and those changes so that I can be ok and I can still do my job and look after my patients you can't do it if you're a tired and burnt out doctor."

New Zealand's GP workforce, keeping the country safe are sacrificing a lot to be on the front lines.

Like Dr Heather - many doctors have been feeling the pressure for a while, but now it's really affecting their mental health.

Many GPs are working 60-70 hour weeks and every session requires at least an hour or two of paper work.

Dr Heather said it's taking a toll now more than ever, with many leaving the profession or taking an early retirement.

"I've heard so many stories of colleagues taking time out or quitting just to have a bit of a break or have family time. Some of them have quit medicine or just do part time because they are so tired."

Over the last two years, Pasifika GP's have been battling the measles epidemic and covid-19 back to back.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has teamed up with Pacific Mental Health service Le Va to support the Pasifika workforce.

Royal College of GP's President Dr Sam Murton

Royal College of GP's President Dr Sam Murton Photo: © 2018 Ian Robertson Photography Ltd.

Royal College of GP's President Dr Sam Murton said Pacific GP's are juggling a lot of different hats.

"You tend to be a community leader. You don't just deal with the person sitting in front of you in your consulting room. You deal with the community, whole whānau are often the port of call for interpreting services."

Pasifika mental health service Le Va is providing group webinars for just over a dozen doctors as well as one on one sessions.

Le Va Chief executive Denise Kingi-'Ulu'ave

Le Va Chief executive Denise Kingi-'Ulu'ave Photo: Supplied

Their Chief executive Denise Kingi-'Ulu'ave said they're teaching GP's to look after themselves first.

"Sometimes there is this believe that you should have it all together because you are a health professional and so we tend to put on a mask to just try and cope but we know that is not healthy for anybody."

She said one what the GP's are learning "is that it's ok to care about ourselves in order to care for others."

Dr Heather took part in a group webinar, and said slowing down to fill her own tank had been a meaningful lesson.

"We take a lot on board. We feel that we want to make sure our community is safe and protected and getting the right messages but also too that we are available to answer questions, concerns and fears. We want to do our best."

There are at least 52 Pacific GPs in Aotearoa and 50 more registrars and trainees.

Whangarei Dr Aniva Lawrence said general practitioners were still the poorer cousin and are an often an afterthought to maintaining hospitals being open.

Samoan GP, Dr Aniva Lawrence

Samoan GP, Dr Aniva Lawrence Photo: The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP)

"There needs to be more political support around the shortages that we are expereincing the difficulty is primary care is the backbone," she said.

"It is still mostly small business ownership across NZ. There are over 5000 of us working day in day out. If we have a unwell workforce we will ultimately have an unwell nation."