One in five newly certified medical specialists unemployed in 2017, study shows

MONTREAL — Despite long patient waiting lists, almost one in five Canadian medical specialists weren’t able to find work upon graduation from their training programs in 2017 — the highest number ever reported, according to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

A study released Wednesday by the professional association that oversees Canadian medical specialists’ education found that 19 per cent of specialists didn’t immediately find work upon completing their certification.

Unemployment numbers for newly certified specialists have fluctuated between 14 and 19 per cent since the group began conducting surveys in 2011, with the 2017 numbers being the most recent.

The numbers don’t point to a surplus of specialists but rather a need for better planning, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

For the moment, “the system isn’t working in an optimal way,” said Danielle Frechette, the executive director of the royal college’s Office of Research, Health Policy and Advocacy and one of the survey’s authors.

In a phone interview, she said some doctors can spend more than a year job-hunting.

The goal of the survey is to “find solutions for problems linked to employment of doctors, to improve physician workforce planning and inform career choice,” the royal college said.

The response rate to the initial survey was 37 per cent, while 51 per cent of specialists who reported employment challenges agreed to a follow-up survey.

The survey suggests changes need to be made to better serve patients, Frechette said. “If governments think of aligning human resources with physical resources to give care more punctually, we would all be happier,” she said.

The survey respondents noted several barriers to finding employment, including a lack of positions in their specialty poor access to job listings their own reluctance to leave their home cities due to family obligations a lack of resources including hospital beds or operating rooms and the delayed retirement of senior physicians and surgeons.

“Some hospitals would like to hire me but no funding for operating room time so no job. Older surgeons don’t want to retire,” one newly certified oncologist wrote in the survey.

As for those who don’t want to move, many are members of “generation sandwich,” who are simultaneously caring for children and aging parents, Frechette said.

The 2017 survey results confirmed previous years’ findings that surgical specialities requiring more resources are the most affected by employment issues. Neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists were the most affected in each of the seven years the survey has been conducted, followed by orthopedic surgeons and nuclear medicine specialists.

At the same time that specialists report difficulty finding employment, an international investigation has found that Canadians have reported longer wait times than other similar countries when it comes to seeing a specialist.

More than half of Canadians, or 56 per cent, waited more than four weeks to see a specialist, compared to the international average of 36 per cent. This is according to the 2016 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of adults in 11 countries, the royal college said.

The good news in the survey is that 61 per cent of specialists who reported difficulty in finding employment had secured a position by the time a follow-up survey was given 12 to 17 months after certification, Frechette said.

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