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Rise in Number of Doctors Outpaces Population Growth

Increase seen even in rural areas

By Omid Ghoreishi
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 20, 2012 Last Updated: November 20, 2012
Related articles: Canada » National
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More people graduating with medical degrees combined with more internationally trained physicians coming to Canada has driven up the number of medical doctors. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com)

More people graduating with medical degrees combined with more internationally trained physicians coming to Canada has driven up the number of medical doctors. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com)

The number of medical doctors in Canada has grown three times faster than the Canadian population over the past five years, according to a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Between 2007 and 2011, the number of physicians rose by 14 percent, while the population grew only by 4.7 percent during that time.

Yvonne Rosehart, program lead with the CIHI, says the increase is due to the fact that more people are graduating with medical degrees in Canada. In addition, there are more internationally trained doctors joining the work force—more than the number of Canadian-trained doctors leaving the country.

If you look at the number of people coming out of medical school, it’s been increasing at quite a considerable rate.

— Yvonne Rosehart, Canadian Institute for Health Information

“If you look at the number of people coming out of medical school, it’s been increasing at quite a considerable rate, averaging about 4 percent over the last 5 years,” Rosehart says.

“If you look at the international supply, it’s about a quarter of our workforce at the moment, and it’s increasing as well.”

The growth resembles the rise in the number of medical doctors seen in the 1980s, before the implementation of policies a decade later that capped enrolment at medical schools and limited the number of internationally trained physicians that can practice in Canada.

Rosehart expects the trend to continue.

“Assuming the policies stay as they are, there are a lot more students studying medicine compared to what it used to be, and that should translate into more doctors for Canadians.”

More Doctors in Rural Areas

The CIHI report also shows that in rural areas, many of which have been experiencing a chronic shortage of doctors, the rise in physicians outgrew rural population growth by about five times over the last five years.

Rosehart says close to 20 percent of Canadians live in rural settings, and about 15 percent of family doctors work in rural areas.

“You’re starting to see more doctors moving to rural communities to work,” she says.

Also contributing to the rise is the fact that many medical schools have satellite campuses training students outside of urban cores and offering classes focused on treating patients in rural areas, combined with incentive programs to encourage doctors to work in rural areas.

Shortage Persists Despite Growth

However, even though there are more physicians practicing, 4.45 million Canadians indicated last year that they do not have a regular doctor.

Among those who had looked for a doctor, 36.4 percent said the doctors in their area were not taking new patients, while 30.9 percent said their doctor has retired or left the area.

Rosehart says the characteristics of today’s workforce provide insight into why the shortage persists despite the increase in doctors.

“Older doctors work differently than younger doctors,” she says. “Historically, older doctors are from a generation where the career was top and everything else was more secondary.”

The younger generation, on the other hand, puts more emphasis on “work-life balance.”

“That might translate to when one doctor leaves, one doctor may not be enough to replace them.”

Another aspect is that there are now more female doctors in the workforce. Citing different studies done on the subject, Rosehart says women practice differently than men, spending more time with their patients and focusing more on health prevention. They also tend to work fewer hours or see fewer patients.

“All those things are going to have an impact on whether or not the public feels like they have a doctor, and they have access to primary health care.”

As for the future, Canada’s aging baby boomers means the demand for doctors is likely to rise.

“Older patients tend to see their family practitioners more often, they tend to have more health issues,” Rosehart says.

“As the boomers age, that has to be considered as well—what the population needs from the health care system.”

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