5 Things to Know About Practicing Psychiatry in Canada

Kristen Campbell
March 12, 2021

Psychiatrists in Canada enjoy a range of benefits – from being one of the specialties most likely to take their practice virtual and own their own practice, to having some of the best working hours across all medical specializations, there’s never been a better time to be a psych! 

So when did psychiatry become a medical specialty? While psychiatry got its name as a specialty back in the 1800s, it wasn’t until 1972 that the CMA recognized it as a specialty in Canada. Psychiatrists were initially used only for inpatients with illnesses like psychosis and severe depression, as well as conditions that would today fall under the domain of other specializations, such as dementia, seizures, or thyroid problems. Psychiatrists treated inpatients almost exclusively, with any patient who was able to function in society – even in a small capacity – being under the domain of other specialists (mainly neurologists). 

Psychiatry started in earnest around the 20th century, when Freud popularized the explanation that less severe ailments could have subconscious roots. These less severe ailments gradually became treatable by psychiatrists, rather than neurologists, leading the way to how the practice operates today and to the introduction of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and pharmaceutical innovation. So is psychiatry a good specialty? For the 72% of Canadian psychiatrists who report being satisfied with their professional life, the answer is a resounding yes! Here are 5 things you need to know about practicing psychiatry in Canada:

You Can Work Flexible Hours

Unlike specializations that require long hours in the operating room or the ER, psychiatrists can often enjoy a much more flexible schedule depending on the setting where they practice. According to the CMA, just over half of psychiatrists work in either a private practice setting or in either full-time or part-time academia, and these clinical settings give you more flexibility with setting your own schedule – which could be why the average workweek for psychiatrists, at 46.6 hours a week, is one of the lowest.

But working in private practice or in academia isn’t the only way for psychiatrists in Canada to have flexible hours – many inpatient psychiatrist positions offer shift work or hospitalist hours, such as a 7 day on/7 day off schedule. This allows hospital patients access to a psychiatrist for more hours in a day, and also allows you more time for yourself. 

You Can Work Remotely

Since the nature of psychiatry generally requires little (or no) physical examination, psychiatrists are uniquely suited to take advantage of new billing codes and requirements for virtual practice. You could schedule certain hours in your workday for virtual clients (for example, by coming into the office late or leaving early) or block off days in your week to work from home. Some psychiatrists have even been able to take their entire practice virtual, which offers more flexibility for both you and your patients. Keep in mind that there are certain drawbacks to offering virtual services – taking appointments via phone can result in you missing important visual cues, and some patients might have concerns about accessibility or privacy when conducting appointments in their own home where other family members could listen. However, other patients might appreciate the convenience, and using your best judgement about how to divide your time can mean a better experience for both you and your patients!

You’re at a Lower Risk for Burnout

Despite early research suggesting psychiatrists are one of the higher-risk specialties for burnout, further research has not replicated these findings. In fact, more recent studies found psychiatrists at a lower risk for burnout than general practitioners and surgeons, and also report a higher quality of life overall. While it’s true that psychiatry specialists sometimes need to deal with complex and chronic mental illnesses, difficult family situations, or patient violence, the difficulty level of your patients will depend on the clinical setting where you work and the subspecialty you choose. With more flexibility around your hours, you may have more time to mentally recover in traumatic circumstances.

Overall, the data suggests that psychiatrists are some of the most satisfied doctors in the profession. This might have to do with self selection – many doctors see medicine as a calling, but since psychiatry is by its nature different from many other specialties, psychiatrists especially are often in the role because they want to be, and find the work they do both satisfying and meaningful.

You’re Highly In-Demand

According to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, demand for psychiatrists exceeds the supply all across Canada – shortages exist for psychiatrists in both rural and northern areas and even in populous centres. Thanks to improved treatment models and the destigmatization of many mental illnesses in recent years, the average number of patients seen by psychiatrists grew 20% between 2003 and 2013 – and that number is still growing. For example, in places like Guelph, Ontario, there is a waiting list of over 400 patients, with government initiatives in place to bring in new doctors. Child psychiatrists in particular have a sharp contrast between demand and supply, and since the population of psychiatrists as a whole is aging – with over half the profession over 55 – there is plenty of room to fill the gap.

Since there’s so much demand, psychiatrists who practice in Canada can take advantage of a network of flexible working opportunities – like locum roles or options for travel – and resources available for them. Although psychiatry has traditionally been a lower paying specialization, high demand in rural and northern areas can mean access to rural billing premiums or grant options (like student loan forgiveness programs) – all of which can increase your bottom line. 

Psychiatry is an Emerging Field

What we know about the brain is still evolving, and so is the practice of psychiatry. According to the CMA’s most recent statistics, 27% of psychiatrists work in an academic health sciences centre, a larger proportion than many other specialties, and many positions with hospitals can offer a research component in addition to your clinical hours. Aging populations, scientific and technological discoveries and environmental factors such as technology use or the change in working environments can all contribute to a diverse and ever changing psychiatric environment with changing patient needs. From emerging fields like geriatric and sports psychology to neuroimmune disorders and advances in pharmacological treatments, psychiatry is a young and exciting field of medicine, and one that offers psychiatrists – both old and new – plenty of room to grow. 

 

Whether you work in private practice, academic medicine, or a hospital setting, there’s never been a better time to practice psychiatry in Canada. With greater flexibility in terms of where and how you practice, surging demand for your services and high levels of professional satisfaction, psychiatrists can look forward to a career that is both satisfying and meaningful. For more on psychiatry in Ontario, see our guide on Psychiatry Billing Guide.

 


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