Understanding Alberta's family medicine crisis

Alberta’s family medicine system is collapsing. Across the province, upwards of 650,000 Albertans are searching for a family doctor. Without a family doctor, chronic conditions are almost impossible to manage and new issues, including cancers, may go unnoticed until they are past the point of effective treatment. People are showing up in emergency rooms looking for prescription refills and lab work because they don’t know where else to go.

The information on this page has been gathered from front-line family physicians who live this reality every day. They want Albertans to be aware of the issues impacting their health care so we can work together to save primary care.

In the words of family physicians

Physician leaders recently wrote an op-ed outlining some of the challenges facing family medicine. The letter includes questions Albertans should be asking provincial candidates about their plan for our health care system: Op-Ed Make fixing Alberta's primary health care an election issue.

The co-chair of the AMA’s Joint Physician Advocacy Committee (JPAC) penned a letter discussing the increasing pressures family physicians are facing and what Albertans can do to advocate for the care they deserve: Family doctors need your help - An open letter to Albertans.

Family medicine is the foundation of our care

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The Value of family medicine

Family medicine is the foundation of our care. Right now, that foundation is crumbling. We must strengthen family medicine to strengthen our system.

Communities in crisis

Rural communities across Alberta are struggling amidst a growing health human resources crisis. Many communities have seen an exodus of family physicians that has left local hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed.

Physicians in High River, Alberta recently penned an open letter sharing their concerns about what their community is facing.

albertafindadoctor.ca demand soars

Launched in April 2019, the albertafindadoctor.ca site is a partnership between Alberta’s Primary Care Networks and Alberta Health that was created to help Albertans to find a family doctor and health care team. Visits to the site have increased dramatically over the past year, while the number of doctors accepting new patients has dropped sharply. 

Website visits per year Doctors accepting new patients by zone Doctors accepting new patients by zone as of April 2023

Click on each image to view the pdf

CaRMS matching results

The Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) is a national, independent, not-for-profit, fee-for-service organization that provides a fair, objective and transparent application and matching service for medical training throughout Canada.

On March 22, 2023, CaRMS released the results of the first iteration of their R-1 Main Residency Match. Alberta had 42 unmatched family residency positions, compared to two in BC and none in Saskatchewan. It was clear evidence that time is running out to address Alberta’s family medicine crisis. The results of the second iteration left 22 of those spots still unfilled.

The 2023 CaRMS matches are a huge signal that action is needed. More must be done to stabilize and support family medicine and make it a more attractive specialty. We must urgently stabilize practices, retain and attract family physicians and create capacity for training, particularly in rural areas. Other provinces are responding to these challenges much more expeditiously, and that shows in the CaRMS numbers. Government needs to work with physicians to change the landscape to make family medicine - and all specialties - sustainable and attractive in Alberta.

2023 R-1 and R-2 main residency match information

Rural medicine update

Episode 9 of the 2021 podcast series 'Alberta, This is Going to Hurt’ took a deep dive into the challenges facing rural medicine. Drs. Sam Myhr, Ed Aasman and Vicci Fourie discussed their 2020 grassroots advocacy campaign to reverse cuts impacting the viability of rural medicine. Despite the success of the campaign, they warned that rural communities were continuing to bleed. 

We recently released a special follow-up episode, which explores how the warnings they shared two years ago have come to pass. Episode 11 – "So Long, and Thanks for All the Goodwill,” sees Dr. Myhr assume the role of exit interviewer for her two colleagues who have made the difficult choice to leave Alberta.

Listen in to learn from their combined 56 years of experience as they explain what is needed to resuscitate rural health care and how you can help. Listen now.

Handle With Care: How will we fix what’s ailing our primary health care system?

Physician leaders have been involved in a lot of work toward reforming primary care over the longer term, but physicians need help in the immediate term so that their practices can survive. We must find ways to help family physicians provide the kind of care that Albertans expect and deserve.

Both political parties have significant plans to solve primary care issues in Alberta. Please consider asking political candidates the following questions about primary care:

  • Albertans want access to a family doctor who is connected to a team. How will your party ensure every Albertan has a medical home?
  • How will your party work to encourage medical students and residents to choose comprehensive family medicine in Alberta?
  • How will your party financially stabilize and sustain the independent, small-business family practice offices that deliver the majority of primary care, including recognizing the increasing administrative requirements that are burdening them?

Click to read the AMA’s primary care profile that addresses the state of family medicine; the need to sustainably support clinics and family physicians that are in crisis; and the value of providing every Albertan with a medical home.

Articles, information and insights

The family medicine crisis is complex and extends across Canada. Over the past few years, national medical organizations have detailed the growing pressure and strain physicians are facing. Physicians and patients have also shared their personal experiences and their worries. There are many ideas on what it will take to revive Canada’s family medicine system. Some jurisdictions are starting to listen – it’s time for Alberta to do the same.

Alberta Medical Association Mission: Advocate for and support Alberta physicians. Strengthen their leadership in the provision of sustainable quality care.