Doctors and Healthcare System

Dear Dr. B: Sometime ago you wrote about the shortage of doctors and other health care professionals. Is there any hope that things will improve in the near future since the Alberta Government has given doctors more money? Yours Mr. Concerned.

Dear Mr. Concerned: Unfortunately, no. To train a doctor and put him into practice takes ten to fifteen years. So it will be few years before we see some results.

The situation in Canada and Alberta continues to be critical. Here are some examples.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reports that last month was “match day” for Canada’s medical students. And the bad news is that the family residency programs in Canada for the year 2001 had 19 percent of its 476 openings unfilled.

The situation was worse for the specialized programs in family practice that are oriented towards practice in rural areas. One-third of these positions went unfilled. Recently, Alberta opened 20 new rural medicine slots. Fourteen of these 20 slots went unfilled in the first round! It seems Canada is not producing enough doctors who would be interested in family practice – once considered to be a very popular choice.

What about the specialists?

There will continue to be shortage of orthopaedic surgeons in the future. Eight of the 37 orthopaedic residency program slots remained unfilled on match day. This is the first time so many slots have gone unfilled!

Anaesthesia was the least popular program with the medical graduates five years ago. This year it has been different. There were 76 applicants for 58 spots! CMAJ says that obstetrics and gynaecology continues to be unpopular with medical graduates – twenty percent of slots remained unfilled. In psychiatry, nine of 79 slots went unfulfilled.

What are the medical graduates looking for? Perhaps a hospital-based salaried practice, more regular hours, no overhead expenses, no battles with hospitals for equipment, beds and funding, and better life-style choices.

One CMAJ headline says: Alberta investing $10 million to keep elite specialists. Who are these elite specialists?

There are about 70 specialists in Calgary and Edmonton who perform specialized procedures for province wide programs like organ transplants, neurosurgery, dialysis units etc. Over the next two years, Calgary and Edmonton health authorities will receive five million dollars each to stop these specialists going south of the border.

But what are we doing to keep specialists working in areas like Medicine Hat, Grand Prairie and Fort McMurray? Are the overworked specialists in these types of cities given incentives to have a better life-style so that they can continue to provide good service to the people of these areas?

Mr. Concerned, health care system is like a big puzzle. I doubt whether we will ever have all the pieces in place at the same time to have a perfect system. Most people in Alberta are satisfied with the care they get. Thanks to the dedication and sacrifices made by various people in the health care system.

So Mr. Concerned, this is a long answer to your short question!

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