There are more doctors than ever before; yet two million Canadians can’t find one.
An estimated 30,000 Kamloopsians don’t have a family doctor, although only about one-half of them are looking if national averages apply.
Something doesn’t add up. Why can’t Canadians find a doctor if there is a surplus? It’s complicated.
First, recent graduates of medical schools can’t find the residency they want. Without a residency, they will never become doctors.
This year, 2,980 will graduate from Canada’s 17 medical schools. They will compete for 3,308 residency spots. That would seem like every graduate should get a spot. However, 917 of those spots are in Quebec which means that there is a shortage for English-speaking graduates.
Then there is the arcane process of matching graduates to residencies which leaves some out. Health reporter André Picard says:
“But matching a graduate to a residency spot is a complex process, overseen by the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS). Medical students apply to CaRMS in one or more specialties; committees select who they wish to interview and rank them; graduates rank the programs and, finally, an algorithm spits out a match, and the student is legally bound to take that residency spot (Globe and Mail, May 1, 2018).”
Graduates have become pickier. They get assigned in residency specialties where they don’t want to work. As a result of preferences and the complexities of CaRMS, 115 graduates are unmatched this year. Jobs are waiting for them -there are 78 unfilled positions, 65 of them in family medicine.
The unmatched graduates have invested a lot. They have accumulated an average debt of $100,000 during four years of training. Taxpayers have invested a lot. We are on the hook for their subsidized education. The cost of training a medical student is $250,000.
Also, some graduates want a regular job where they work only 40 hours a week as in a hospital in a so-called “hospitalist” position. At $150 an hour, a hospitalist makes $300,000 a year with no overhead. Compare that with a doctor in his own private practice. After paying staff and rent, a doctor would have to earn $400,000 a year to take home that much -and they’d work longer hours with less medical equipment and fewer support staff such as nurses. But there are only so many hospitalist positions.
One-half of Canada’s physicians focus on sports medicine or palliative care says Dr. Danielle Martin on CBC’s the Current:
“. . .they’re not practicing what we would think of as full scope full service cradle-to-grave primary care family medicine, and that is what those people who are lining up at Dr. Pengilly’s clinic and asking [for a primary caregiver].”
Doctors need to abandon their sense of entitlement says Picard. We need more general practitioners, especially in small cities and rural Canada. Enrolling in medical school doesn’t entitle graduates to jobs wherever they want, in the speciality of their choice.
“Becoming a doctor is hard,” says Picard, “It’s also a privilege. We need a system that ensures the right doctors are working in the right places, not on where personal desires can trump societal needs.”