Guideline: Physicians and health CARE Emergencies


The ill have always turned to physicians in times of crisis.  Physicians have always provided care, often putting themselves at great risk in order to save their patients.

Federal, provincial and local responses to health emergencies[1]require extensive involvement of physicians.  This policy has been developed to reaffirm the profession’s commitment to the public in times of health emergencies.


  1. The practice of medicine is founded on the values of compassion, service, altruism and trustworthiness.  These values form the basis of professionalism.

  1. Physicians have duties which reflect the profession’s values.  Physicians have duties individually to their patients.  As members of the medical profession, they have a duty collectively to the public.  As well, physicians have duties to themselves and their colleagues.


Providing Care

The College expects physicians to provide medical care during a health emergency.  Medical care should be provided in accordance with any federal, provincial and local emergency plans.

In doing so, physicians fulfill their individual commitments to patients, professional commitment to colleagues and collective commitment to the public.

Physicians should not be expected to shoulder the burden of providing care in a health emergency without support from government and health care institutions/organizations. The responsibility of these entities is to minimize risks and burdens and to do whatever is possible to contain the health emergency.

Practising Outside of Scope of Practice

In non-emergency situations, there are clear expectations around scope of practice.  A physician must practice only in areas of medicine in which the physician is educated and experienced.  Changes in a physician’s scope of practice must be done in accordance with the College’s bylaws.[2]

In a health emergency, federal, provincial and local emergency plans may call upon physicians to practice in an area of medicine in which they are not educated and experienced.

A physician should only practice outside of his/her area of expertise during a health emergency if:

  • the care needed is urgent;
  • a more skilled physician is not available; and,
  • not providing the care would lead to worse consequences than providing it.

Once the health emergency is over, the physician should no longer practice in the new area.

In advance of health emergency, the College encourages physicians to take advantage of any training offered to them for the activities which they may be required to perform.  Physicians may also want to contact the Canadian Medical Protective Association for additional guidance.

Keeping Informed and Cooperating

Physicians are expected to keep informed of all pertinent federal, provincial and local emergency plans and public health communication systems, particularly regarding the role of physicians.

In order to provide the best possible care, physicians need to receive up-to-date and complete information both prior to and during a health emergency.

Physicians should cooperate with any government and/or public health requirements and/or directives.


The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has adapted this from a document prepared by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.  The Saskatchewan College gratefully acknowledges that work.


Approved by Council, September, 2009
Confirmed by Council, January 2012
Reviewed by Council January 2017
To be Reviewed January 2022

[1] The CMPA has said that “a possible definition of a health emergency is an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that seriously endangers the lives, health and/or safety of the population”.  This could include pandemics, natural disasters and terrorist attacks.  CMPA March 2008 Information Sheet.

[2] College Bylaw 4.1 requires a physician to meet certain conditions before changing their field of practice