Province vows to increase rural health-care supports as Albertans struggle to find family doctors
Posted March 29, 2023 3:14 pm.
Access to a family doctor in Alberta is getting more difficult for some, and physicians fear it could get worse due to a high number of unfilled family medicine residence positions in the province.
According to the Canadian Resident Matching Service, there are 42 unmatched family medicine residency positions in Alberta.
In comparison, in British Columbia there are two unmatched positions, and in Saskatchewan there are none.
The president of the Alberta Medical Association said in a statement this is alarming.
“Government needs to act urgently,” said Dr. Fredrykka Rinaldi. “Years of underfunding and uncertainty have put a strain on primary care in this province and have resulted in a disincentive for learners looking to Alberta as a place to train.”
Alberta’s health minister did not deny we need more doctors but says there’s still time to fill vacant positions.
“And we’re going to continue to work with the deans to ensure we get the matches, and if we don’t get the matches we can actually leverage IMGs (international medical graduates) because we need family physicians in Alberta,” said Jason Copping.
Earlier this month, the province invested nearly $200 million to expand post-secondary health-care programs, and to create more residency spaces in the province.
“Our focus is actually primarily on family physicians and expanding those programs and train local people, particularly rural folks, to be able to train here and then do their clerkships and residencies in rural areas, because that is where we have a huge shortage,” said Copping.
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However, the Opposition NDP believes trust is lost between young doctors and the UCP.
“These young students that are now seeking residencies this year, they were beginning that process, they were watching their government essentially nuke family medicine. They saw the damage that it did, they saw people being impacted by this, and they are voting with their feet,” said David Shepard, the NDP health critic.
Plan to modernize rural hospitals
On Wednesday, in response to the family doctor crisis, the province announced a new plan to expand and modernize rural hospitals and other health facilities across the province.
The province says the goal of the plan is to protect health care, grow system capacity, and support front-line workers.
“We are making sure we have the necessary funding in place to build and strengthen health care in our rural communities and address barriers to care for those looking for support and treatment close to home and family. This work includes programs that focus on how to recruit, retain and even train more physicians, nurses and other professionals in areas outside of the cities,” said Copping.
The plan will work alongside the province’s recently announced budget and is expected to see $105 million invested over the next three years for the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program.
“All Albertans, no matter where they live, need and deserve access to our health system,” said Dr. Cheyanne Vetter, facility medical director at Wainwright Health Centre. “Physicians are a critical part of that system, especially in rural areas where we are trusted to support the needs of neighbours, friends, and colleagues during all phases of life. It is a special calling to work in rural health care, but it can be tremendously rewarding for those who pursue it.”
The province also stated the budget will also fund the new agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.
The AMA president says they have sent both immediate and long-term recommendations to the province.