Alberta family physicians recruit high school students to cure shortage
EDMONTON (CP) - Family doctors will visit Alberta high schools this fall to encourage students to help fill Canada's growing shortage of general practitioners.
Statistics Canada estimates 3.6 million Canadians didn't have a regular doctor last year. Part of the problem is many medical school graduates are choosing to become specialists for the higher pay or for the excitement of working in hospital emergency rooms rather than in a family practice.
Calgary physician Dr. Rick Ward said high school students considering a medical career need to hear about the challenges and rewards of being a family doctor.
"To feel the hug from a baby that you delivered who is now 12 years old, it gives you a special feeling and it's very rewarding," Ward said Thursday at a news conference held by the Alberta College of Family Physicians.
College president Dr. Pat Heard said Canada is already short up to 4,000 family doctors, and those numbers will continue to grow as more doctors retire.
For example, 60 per cent of the physicians in Alberta are 45 or older.
"Last year only 24 per cent of students chose family medicine and we need closer to 50 per cent," Heard said.
The cure includes increasing medical school enrolments that were slashed by cost-cutting governments in the 1990s, he said.
Family physicians must also get higher pay and should be able to team up with nurse practitioners, dieticians and other health experts to offer a wider range of services.
Last year, Alberta doctors ratified an eight-year agreement with the province for such measures, including a $100-million increase in primary care spending.
Dr. Sunil Patel, president of the Canadian Medical Association, praised the Alberta college's initiative and suggested other provinces should take note.
Patel, who was a family physician for 25 years, said governments must make family medicine a priority.
That means higher pay, ensuring there are enough general practitioners to avoid burnout in individuals and financial support to acquire up-to-date equipment, he said.
"I think this is excellent. Alberta is leading and the rest of the country has not done the same," Patel said from Montreal.
"We need to mentor our young. Family medicine needs to be recognized by our society and governments so the appropriate resources are provided."
Recruiting more foreign-trained doctors is also part of the answer, but Patel warned it could take Canada 10 years to solve the family physician shortage problem.
Edmonton high school student Jessica Siffledeen, 16, said she is considering a career as a family physician, even though she loves T.V. shows such as ER - a U.S. program that glorifies the excitement of emergency room medicine.
Siffledean said becoming a general practitioner will have its own rewards.
"You see families, you see people, you work with children and you build relationships," she said.