Canada is facing an alarming shortage of family doctors. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost five million people in Canada did not have a regular health care provider1 and since then more physicians are reporting burn out,2 leading them to reduce clinic hours, retire early, or exit the profession altogether3,4.
Canada has been behind other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for years with only 2.7 practising physicians per 1,000 population in 2019 compared to an average of 3.5 per 1,000 population for all OECD countries5. Growth in family physician supply has slowed in recent years across the country, especially in remote areas where supply decreased in 20206.
Fewer medical students are now choosing to specialize in family medicine7, meaning fewer future family physicians to replace those who retire or leave practice.
More family physicians are needed to relieve the pressure on currently practicing providers and ensure appropriate service level availability. There must be consistent, deliberate action to increase supply and enhance capacity with a focus on under-serviced settings and populations. This would help relieve the workload on the current health workforce and improve access to care for all people in Canada.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada™ (CFPC) advocates for actions to increase the supply of family physicians in Canada:
- In 2022, the CFPC partnered with the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association to provide policy recommendations to the Standing Committee on Health to address the crisis in health human resources in Canada, including recommendations to:
- Commit $300 million for debt relief and incentives supporting retention in health care professions in areas of urgent need (e.g., critical care, rural/remote)
- Address the administrative burden of health workers through a new health workers support fund to improve provider well-being and support retention
- Leverage the $3.2 billion commitment to provinces and territories to increase the supply of family doctors by supporting expedited pathways to licensure and practice for international medical graduates wishing to pursue careers in Canada
- In 2022, the CFPC submitted a series of recommendations to inform the federal government’s 2022 budget, including recommendations to prioritize retention of current workforce by providing immediate support to family practices to reduce administrative workload.
- The CFPC publicly challenged the federal government for the lack of tangible investments into shortages of family physicians in Budget 2022
- In 2021, the CFPC called for support alongside other health care providers for a Primary Health Transition Fund to fix health care’s front door by bringing together family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals to work as a team to improve both access and care for patients in alignment with a the Patient’s Medical Home vision.
- Increase family physician supply through support for increased medical school enrolment and residency places across Canada and through funding team-based practice environments in which learners can see their preceptors or teachers thriving and enjoying their practice environment
- Create a robust provincial and national data strategy to enable understanding and consideration of providers’ scope of practice and career trajectories
- Invest in new training and education infrastructure, such as that outlined in the recommendations of the CFPC’s Outcomes of Training Project, to ensure that graduating family physicians are best prepared to meet the needs of communities across Canada
- Leverage the $3.2 billion commitment to provinces and territories to support expedited pathways to licensure and practice for international medical graduates wishing to pursue careers in Canada
1 Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2019 Health Fact Sheet. 2020. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2020001/article/00004-eng.htm. Accessed August 10, 2022
2 Canadian Medical Association. Physician burnout nearly doubles during the pandemic. [news release]. Ottawa, ON: CMA; 2022. https://www.cma.ca/news-releases-and-statements/physician-burnout-nearly-doubles-during-pandemic
3 Statistics Canada, Experiences of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, September to November 2021. 2022. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220603/dq220603a-eng.htm. Accessed August 10, 2022
4 Gérin Lajoie C, Khan N. The ‘Great Resignation’ comes to medicine. Podcast. March 31, 2022. https://www.cma.ca/physician-wellness-hub/sound-mind-podcast/great-resignation-comes-to-medicine. Accessed
5 OECD (2019), Health at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.
6 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Supply, Distribution and Migration of Physicians in Canada, 2020 — Historical Data. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2021.
7 The Toronto Star. 99 family doctor jobs have been left empty in Canada’s yearly hiring of medical graduates. The Toronto Star. 2022 May 16. Available from: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/05/16/99-family-doctor-jobs-have-been-left-empty-in-canadas-yearly-hiring-of-medical-graduates.html. Accessed August 10, 2022.