Counting oncologists

May 31, 2024

Dr. Paul Parks, AMA President

Dear Members,

The need for oncology care mounts swiftly every passing year with unprecedented population growth. The number of oncology spaces funded in Alberta has failed to keep pace. Ask a physician or patient if we have enough of these highly specialized colleagues and the answer will be an unequivocal No! Unfortunately, despite this demand, there is very little transparent data about the number of oncologist spaces that are currently funded and filled, or how many Alberta Health Services predicts we will need to catch up and for further population growth.

In response to the AMA’s cancer care advocacy program, government and AHS note that they are also concerned about access to oncologist care and to that end state they have recruited 17.2 full time equivalent (FTE) positions for 2024-25. I’ve had many questions about this number and what it means.

Let’s put it in context: Of the 17.2 FTEs, 9.5 are replacements for oncologists who are no longer practicing here. Only 7.7 are potential new FTE positions and unfortunately one of these recruitments has already evaporated. Even if there were 17.2 new FTEs, we would still be far below the numbers that we need in order to provide safe and timely cancer care in Alberta. It’s estimated that we could easily absorb around 50 oncologists today just to meet the current need. More still will be required as cancer care demand tilts sharply upward. To complicate things further, we are competing with neighbouring provinces who are aggressively recruiting and hiring from this very scarce specialist pool.

The advocacy campaign supporting cancer care in Alberta is entering its third week. There has been a strong response to media interviews and activity across AMA social media platforms. This week we have been featuring videos from oncology colleagues about their concerns. If you have a story about your experience seeking cancer care for your patients, please consider sharing it. It’s easy and people need to hear what is happening. Public advocacy is our best tool to convince the government we must be competitive for recruitment and retention, and that we cannot delay.


Paul Parks
President, Alberta Medical Association

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