Understanding physician supply numbers

October 9, 2020

Dr. Paul Boucher, AMA President

Dear Members:

You may have seen media coverage in the last 24 hours relating to the latest quarterly physician supply statistics from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta that show a net increase in the third quarter. The CPSA noted that net increases this year have been smaller than over the last five years and recognized that we will not know the actual numbers until the end of the year.

Some immediately construed the new figures as proof that “There is no exodus of physicians from Alberta.” This interpretation fails to recognize some of the challenges that we are facing.

Focusing on a snapshot of physician supply today does not tell the whole story and it also misses the point. Many physicians are feeling so unsettled in this environment without an agreement that they are contemplating leaving. Our survey this summer found 42% of our members were thinking of making the move out of Alberta. There is a real level of distress, burn out and financial stress on physician practices across the province. There is no way that this should be ignored.

If the CEO of a big corporation found out that almost half of her staff were thinking of quitting because they were unhappy, it would be considered a crisis. A high functioning organization would seek to urgently remedy the situation. The shareholders would rightly demand a full account of what led to the situation and expect to see clear direction toward change.

Make no mistake, this is having an impact on our physician workforce. I have had a number of personal communications from members who are closing their practices and leaving as a direct result of our relationship with government. Others have told me of new recruits to their practice that have decided to go elsewhere. I have heard of students and residents making active choices to train outside of the province. Every one of these accounts represents a loss to a clinic, a community, a program and to Albertans. It is also the loss of a colleague or a bright young mind that might otherwise have contributed to our health care system.

Albertans receive their care from some of the finest physicians in the world. I do not want that to change. The truth about net physician migration is not yet known and understanding where and how physicians provide care is complex. It will not be accurately reflected in one statistic, and most certainly not in a single quarter or perhaps even for years to come. Furthermore, the loss of even one physician in an under-serviced area or a sub-specialized practice will have effects on patient care that will never be appreciated by a simple head count.

Like me, I am sure you are all watching the pandemic numbers grow and worrying about the weeks and months ahead. Our struggles with government have added to what is already a stressful and uncertain environment. Please know we are working hard to reach a comprehensive negotiated agreement. This is the way to restore stability and rebuild a working relationship between physicians and government: one where you are considered a valued leader in the system. It is the only way to ensure that physicians remain in Alberta and that we can continue to attract the best and the brightest.

To our patients, I would say this: even in difficult times, we love our calling and are here for you. We draw strength from our relationships with you and this is what keeps us going.

Thank you for the many congratulatory and supportive messages I have received as I assume the presidency. I can feel the unity of the profession. Please do not forget to renew your membership. Your renewal is a clear and active demonstration of your support for the Association, for unity in the profession and for our plans to continue to work on your behalf and provide value to each and every member. Stand with us and renew today!

Lastly, I wanted to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I hope you can find a quiet moment to give thanks for all the things that sustain you and give you strength. For some, holidays can be stressful and if this is the case for you, remember the Physician and Family Support Program is only a call away.

I will write again soon.

Your comments are welcome in the following ways:

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply: president@albertadoctors.org
  • Comment publicly below on this President's Letter (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member).

Sincerely,

Paul E. Boucher, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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