Dr. Daniel Edgcumbe, medical director for Alberta Health Services Central Zone, said there are still some doctor shortage challenges in remote and rural areas in particular. (Photo contributed)

Rural doctor shortage on the mend

Team in place to recruit doctors to Red Deer and central Alberta

A new report shows Alberta has attracted more doctors than other provinces in recent years, and a central Alberta health official says the doctor shortage in rural areas has diminished.

The report — Physicians in Canada, 2017 — released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed Alberta had an 11 per cent increase in the number of doctors per 100,000 population between 2013 and 2017, to give the province the largest increase in Canada.

Across the country, there was a 6.6 per cent increase in physicians per 100,000 people.

“Across Alberta, there’s been a steady growth in the number of physicians. I think that highlights the good work that’s been going on, not just in the zone and Red Deer, but across the province for recruitment of physicians,” said Dr. Daniel Edgcumbe, medical director for Alberta Health Services’ central zone.

Currently, the search is on by AHS for one doctor each in Viking, Killam, Camrose, Daysland and Ponoka. The call is out for two doctors in Rocky Mountain House and four in Red Deer, according to AHS.

“You certainly don’t see the shortages that we saw a few years ago in quite the same way,” said Edgcumbe. “There are some challenges in the more remote and rural areas in particular. But we’re working on that. We know that access to physicians is important.”

The central zone has 711 doctors, which includes 453 family doctors and 258 specialists. These are doctors associated with AHS facilities and there may be other doctors in the zone who work in clinics.

Of the 711 doctors, 286 are in Red Deer, which includes 94 family doctors and 192 specialists.

Since July 2017, the central zone recruited 73 doctors and 27 went to Red Deer.

Edgcumbe said 52 family doctors have been recruited to the central zone since 2017 to help people find a family doctor.

“The recruitment of family physicians is really important because primary care is foundational to the health-care system. If we’re going to achieve what we want to in terms of continuing to enhance care in the community and ensure that patients can access care closer to home, making sure we’ve got an adequate primary care workforce is really, really important.”

He said Red Deer also has a great group of specialists.

“They work well together and we’re seeing increasing numbers of younger physician towards the start their career coming into Red Deer to provide specialist services. I think that’s a testament to the fact that Red Deer is a great place for physicians to live and work.”

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The Canadian Institute for Health Information report found the number of female physicians increased by 19.2 per cent, while the number of male physicians increased by 6.8 per cent.

In the central zone, 27 per cent of doctors were female. In Red Deer, it was 29 per cent.

The report also showed more than one-quarter of doctors received their degree outside of Canada, representing 30.2 per cent of family physicians and 22.5 per cent of specialists.

“Particularly in our rural areas, we do depend quite heavily and greatly value the contributions of international graduates, so they are an important part of our workforce,” Edgcumbe said.



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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