Canada is in the midst of doctor shortage. In particular there are at least 6 million Canadians with out family doctor. The situation is worsening. The most recent Canadian Residency Match for medical students applying to specialties, showed that there were 268 empty spots for family medicine after the first round. This is the highest number of unmatched family medicine positions ever. Medical Students, being really smart people, are viewing family medicine as a dead end specialty and avoiding it like the plague.
If only the boorish loudmouth who predicted we were heading in this direction six years ago and been listened to…..
Governments at both federal and provincial levels are taking steps to try to address this. In British Columbia, they have introduced a capitation based payment model for family physicians (think of it as salary + performance bonuses). Ontario has a model like this that had great success in the early 2000’s. The federal government pledged more spending on health care in the future. Ontario plans the “largest expansion of medical school education in ten years.” And so on.
But what would have things been like if successive governments didn’t drive doctors away from Canada in the first place?
Going back as far as the 1990s, inept governments have, over the years, done their best to make physicians feel unwelcome. The Bob (“I am super elite“) Rae NDP government of 1990-1995 in Ontario implemented the Barer-Stoddart report. This report decided “there were too many doctors” (I kid you not) and cut medical school enrolment by 10%. Three decades later we are still feeling the adverse ramifications created by that move.
Similarly, the disreputable Kathleen Wynne Ontario Liberal government went to war with physicians in the mid 2010s, led by her woefully incompetent Health Minister Eric Hoskins, and his inept sidekick, Deputy Minister Bob Bell. Those geniuses thought it was a good idea to CUT 50 residency positions (training for doctors) and only saw the light during a deathbed confession just in time for the 2018 election. In particular, Hoskins and Bell’s blatant disregard and borderline contempt for family physicians resulted in, as OMA Vice-Chair Audrey Karlinsky put it, 6 years of family medicine graduates not choosing comprehensive family medicine.
Do you think supporting hundreds of those young potential family docs then would have made a difference now when 2.2 Million Ontario residents are without a family doctor?
To prove that idiocy in health care management can occur with parties of all political stripes, the former Alberta Conservative Health Minister, the combustible Tyler Shandro, actually verbally attacked a physician at his home in Alberta, along with, you guessed it, going to war with physicians in his own province. Really helps to retain physicians, no?
In my first ever blog for the Huffington Post (seven years ago!), I pointed out to then Health Minister Eric Hoskins that 30% of my graduating class no longer worked in Ontario due to Bob Rae’s intransigence. I urged Hoskins to change his behaviour or that by the time of the next election, health care would be in a worse crisis and hinted his government would pay the price in the 2018 election. (I wonder if Kathleen Wynne regrets sticking with him as health minister for so long, despite the fact he was obviously not up to the task).
Admittedly, that’s one person’s recollection. Are there any statistics out there that show just how many Canadian trained doctors have left Canada? There are, although they are really hard to come by, and not as up to date as I’d like. Huge shout out to Dr. Mary Fernando for digging these up for me.
In 2000, the OECD published a report on the mobility of health care professionals. On page 50, it indicated that 19% of doctors born in Canada were working in other countries. Given the crisis we see in health care around us right now, do you think it would help if we could have retained those doctors in Canada?
But wait, aren’t we trying get international medical graduates (IMGs) to come to Canada? Ontario health minister Sylvia Jones did direct colleges to come up with a way to speed up the ability to get foreign doctors licensed. But it turns out we have trouble keeping them as well. A study on retention patterns of IMGs in Canada showed that 12% of IMGs were approved to practice in Canada between 2005 and 2011 LEFT Canada by 2015. While IMGs apply, we have trouble retaining them too.
Clearly, governments need to focus on retention of physicians just as much (if not more so) than recruiting new physicians. What can they do?
The federal government can do a couple of things to help. First it can heed the results of a poll taken by the Medical Post magazine (I voted just before closing and these were the results):
Doctors don’t have pensions and benefits mostly due to some weird federal tax laws. Changing these should be easy and offering pensions and benefits would be a strong way to retain physicians. Similarly, reversing the 2017 tax changes that completely threw retirement planning out the window for doctors would be a big help.
Provincial governments should of course, take note of the fact that going to war with doctors always leads to a deterioration in health care for the residents of their province. But since most politicians are incapable of thinking about anything but their own self interest, let me point out three facts.
In 1995, after going to war with doctors, the Bob Rae NDP government was turfed from power in Ontario and the NDP has yet to form a provincial government since. In 2018, after going to war with doctors, the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government was decimated in the Ontario election, even losing official party status, which they have yet to regain. In 2022 after going to war with doctors, Alberta Premier Jason Kenny had to resign as premier because his own party saw the writing on the wall.
The message is clear. Going to war with doctors is bad for health care and bad for political careers. It’s time politicians realized that, and came up with meaningful solutions like pensions to retain the ones we train.
3 thoughts on “What if We Didn’t Lose the Doctors We Trained?”
Thanks Sohail. Hope this finds you well.
To be fair, the comment from Audrey hits a bit of a nerve.
No one is “lost” to focused practice.
I too support longitudinal comprehensive family practice but to characterize focused practice as a “loss” is disconcerting.
Focused practice was the only avenue available to me to pursue palliative care. A Royal College specialty was not recognized until 2018.
Anyways, not interested in a social media or Twitter war, simply some feedback.
Keep blogging, DC
Thank you much for this, Dr. Gandhi, it is a crucial issue and we need tools to retain doctors – patients are suffering as we lose our doctors.