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Background on Canada's family doctor shortage
By Jessica Findlay and Cliff Vanderlinden

"Family Physicians are the doctors closest to people.  They heal most of the broken-hearted, repair more of the injured and deprived, and live with the poor and dying who are without hope.  Adaptation is the juice of family medicine-the FP adapts to the needs of people, or closes up shop."

–William Johnston, MD

A Canadian crisis is growing as the number of family doctors is shrinking. The problem is rural and urban, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Currently, more than 4 million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor and the situation is expected to get worse over the next decade.

Canadians who do not have a family doctor are less likely to receive basic medical services, such as a yearly check-up, according to a Statistics Canada study released this year.

The study surveyed over 20,000 Canadian physicians and points to an “alarming” decline in access to health care across the country.

The survey, which was conducted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada,says that in the next two years 3,800 doctors plan to retire.  It also says that 60 per cent of family physicians are already limiting or refusing new patients.

To make matters worse, there are fewer new doctors choosing to become general practitioners.  Of the 109 doctors that graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s medical program this past May, only 26 chose to specialize in family medicine. 

As Canadians struggle through long waiting times and doctor searches, family physicians, medical schools and medical associations are searching for ways to alleviate the problem.

There is no quick fix.

There are many elements that must work together in order to heal a wounded system.  As many doctors are retiring in the next five years, medical schools must increase their enrollment, more foreign doctors must be accommodated, and the pay structure for family doctors in private practice must be re-examined.