A Cure for Canada’s Medical Maldistribution

By Sandra Banner
August 7, 2017

There’s a crisis in Canada — a lack of access to timely health care.

According to Statistics Canada, a government agency, 4.5 million Canadians do not have a family doctor.[1] That’s the largest figure since the country established its socialized healthcare system in 1968.[2]

In British Columbia, the number of Canadians seeking a primary care doctor has increased from 176,000 in 2010 to more than 200,000 in 2015.[3] Several rural communities in the province have reported that hospitals shut down their emergency departments or cut hours because they didn’t have enough medical personnel.[4]

It’s no wonder Canadians have more difficulty getting same-day or next-day appointments with their family physicians than the residents of 10 other developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.[5] Many patients find themselves traveling long distances to find care — or end up in understaffed emergency rooms.[6]

Unfortunately, things are only going to grow worse. An aging population is beginning to strain Canada’s healthcare system, just as doctors themselves are retiring. Forty percent of Canada’s doctors are over age 55,[7] and many more will retire in the near future.[8]

Canadian medical schools have increased enrollment by 70 percent in the last decade in hopes of alleviating the shortage of family physicians. But they haven’t been able to keep pace with demand.[9]

The answer may lie far beyond Canada’s borders — in the Caribbean. At St. George’s University in Grenada, we’re teaming up with Canadian universities to recruit students who plan to return to their home country to practice medicine.[10]

Budding doctors are more likely to practice in the provinces where they train.[11] So we’ve made it a priority to help Canadian students gain clinical experience through rotations and residencies at Canadian hospitals.

This model is working. Over 600 Canadians are now enrolled at St. George’s, and 1,200 have graduated.[12] More than half our Canadian graduates opt to practice in primary care fields like internal or family medicine.[13]

Canadian officials can also encourage doctors to return to the country by providing them with more opportunities to practice. For example, provincial governments can fund more primary care residency positions for international medical graduates.

Lack of medical access is a major health risk for Canadians. But medical schools — including those outside Canada — can address the problem.


[1] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14177-eng.htm

[2] http://www.andrewweavermla.ca/2016/01/06/family-doctor-shortage/

[3] http://www.vancouversun.com/health/family+doctor+shortage+worsening+despite+campaign+promise/11029139/story.html

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/15/doctors-canada-report-women-rural_n_2139210.html

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canadian-patients-wait-longest-to-see-family-doctors-1.2501468

[6] http://publications.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/BP/prb0245-e.htm

[7] https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/basic-physician-facts.aspx

[8] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/doctor-shortage-bc-retiring-doctors-1.3553015

[9] https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/basic-physician-facts.aspx

[10] http://www.sgu.edu/school-of-medicine/international-partners.html

[11] https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/basic-physician-facts.aspx

[12] http://sgu.edu/lnd/canada/index.html

[13] http://www.sgu.edu/lnd/canada/index.html

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