Locum coverage, where one doctor temporarily fills in for another, is exceedingly hard to find for family physicians in Canada. For example. the Alberta Medical Association noted that the 2021 need for locums was 40 percent higher than the five-year average. Staffing disparities leave many physicians unable to take a break from their practice without disruptions to care. Burnout from working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasing number of physicians retiring exacerbate this problem.1
Currently, physicians must be licensed in the jurisdiction (province/territory) where the patient they are caring for resides. To treat patients in other provinces or territories, physicians need to obtain an additional license to practice for each additional jurisdiction—a lengthy and expensive process. Nearly two-thirds of physicians surveyed agreed that complexity in the process to obtain a license was a major barrier to practicing in another jurisdiction.
As access to care is a growing problem in Canada, national licensure could rapidly address obstacles to primary care, prevent physician burnout, and avoid further staffing shortages. The absence of a national licence particularly disadvantages communities near provincial borders. With national licensure, the pool of locums increases. Better locum coverage could also allow doctors to work for longer in rural communities as this would provide the relief and support physicians need to mitigate risks of burnout. Without timely access to a locum physician to take the breaks they need, doctors may experience more burnout and retire early; national licensure can preserve health workforce longevity.
The lack of national licensure also prevents more equitable distribution of health care resources, especially as virtual care has become more commonplace. More than half of doctors and nurses say that national licensure would increase their likelihood of working in remote communities. Furthermore, nine in 10 physicians support national licensure and the majority agree it will improve access to care for people in Canada.2
The College of Family Physicians of Canada™ (CFPC) has consistently advocated for changes to licensing requirements over the past few years:
- In 2022 the CFPC testified to the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) on two occasions in support of national licensure – on April 4th and May 9th
- In 2021 the CFPC released “Virtual Care in the Patient’s Medical Home” where we stated the need for policymakers to ease licensing restrictions across provincial and territorial borders
- In 2021 we signed a collaborative National Licensure Consensus statement with the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association, the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, the Resident Doctors of Canada, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in support of the need for a national medical licence
- In 2020, in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, we released the Report of the Virtual Care Task Force. Within this report, we reviewed the current licensing requirements and made recommendations for a pan-Canadian license, which would allow physicians to practice across Canada
1 CBC News. Small-town Alberta having trouble finding short-term doctors. CBC News. 2021 July 7. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/small-town-alberta-having-trouble-finding-short-term-doctors-1.6092573. Accessed August 1, 2022
2 Canadian Medical Association. Canadian physicians support national licensure and increased used of technology to improve health care access. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Medical Association; 2019.