Nov. 24, 2003. 02:24 PM
Medical schools urged to promote family medicine
Report calls on change of attitude to help alleviate MD shortage
Ontario's medical schools should pay more attention to promoting the values of family medicine, a new report on ways to address the shortage of family physicians recommends.
"We need to address the family-doctor-shortage crisis in Ontario at its source," Dr. Peter Deimling, president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, said today following the release of the report.
Deimling said the number of medical students graduating with the intention of becoming family doctors has dropped by about half over the past decade to 24 per cent this year.
The report, entitled the Family Physician Check-Up: Examining Why the Shortage and How to Solve it, says family medicine is the cornerstone of the health-care system. It calls on medical schools to provide "extra elbow grease" in feeding the system with more family doctors.
The report also recommends that medical schools choose more candidates with the attributes needed for family medicine, and that they "shift the culture" to show greater respect for the value of the medical generalist.
"As part of the solution to alleviate the severe shortage of family doctors facing Ontario, the province's medical community needs to show medical students that it is challenging, but rewarding, to practise family medicine," says Deimling. "It is our duty as a profession to ensure it is attractive."
The shortage is provincewide, and needs to be addressed by both medical schools and the Ontario government, the college says.
During the recent Ontario election campaign, the Liberals noted that the number of communities with a shortage of physicians had more than doubled since 1995 - to 122 from 60. The shortage had jumped from 83 family doctors eight years ago, to 569 this year, Dalton McGuinty, now the new premier, said at the time.
To address the shortage, the Liberals pledged to train more doctors by increasing the number of medical school spaces, remove barriers that prevent highly qualified foreign-trained doctors from practising, create 150 family health teams to provide front-line care, and improve incentives already available to doctors who practise in underserviced communities.
The college said today that the shortage is expected to worsen, with 520 family doctors retiring over the next five to 10 years.
"The shortage is putting more stress on those practising and gives medical students the impression that it is the toughest job in medicine to do," said Deimling. "But the truth is, it is one of the most rewarding branches of medicine because of the relationships we develop with our patients and the role we play in our communities."
The report also recommends that family doctors mentor medical school students to "provide them with positive experiences."
Medical schools across Canada are working to increase the number of students who choose family medicine as a career, said Dr. Wayne Weston, chairman of a new task force on family medicine undergraduate education at London's University of Western Ontario.
Halting the bad-mouthing of family doctors and increasing exposure of students to more of what family physicians do in their offices are among the positive steps that can be taken to attract medical school graduates to family medicine, added Weston, a professor in Western's school of medicine.
"When many specialists talk about family doctors, in most cases it's to give a bad example, about mistakes (family) doctors make," said Weston. "It gives the students the (wrong) impression we make mistakes constantly."