One month after the Minister of Health Tyler Shandro committed to a sunshine list for Alberta's registered physicians, the College of Physicians & Physicians released its quarterly report on the number of physicians in the province.
Broken down by gender, there was a net gain of 173 female doctors and 73 male doctors. The increasing number of doctors remains consistent with the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) five-year history of registration statistics.
"This report shows that doctors continue to choose to live and practice in Alberta in impressive numbers – and for a good reason," says Minister Shandro. "Alberta pays more than any other province, has lower taxes, and now has the most attractive compensation package available for rural and remote doctors in Canada."
In the July to September third quarter, 294 physicians joined the workforce, while 47 left the workforce, leaving a net gain of 246 doctors. Out of the 294 doctors recorded under inflow, nine returned to Alberta, 142 are newly licensed physicians trained in Alberta, 139 are newly licensed in Alberta but were not trained in Alberta in the last year, and four are physicians who had their names reinstated. Out of the 47 physicians recorded under outflow, 13 left Alberta, and four gave up their license. An additional five were suspended or had their license removed, three are deceased, while 22 retired.
Overall, the number of physicians in Alberta increased by 12 percent from 2015 to 2019, while the population grew by six percent. Alberta has more physicians per person than the national average, and more than British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec.
"This data confirms that we need new approaches to paying and working with doctors. We spend 15 percent more per capita on physicians than the national average," says Shandro. "Still, Albertans aren't seeing better results, and we have the same shortages in smaller communities that we've seen for decades. The previous government increased spending by $1 billion a year, yet rural physician supply grew slower than in other provinces. We need to align compensation with patient care, and make sure doctors are practicing where Albertans need them."
The number of new physicians in rural Alberta grew by 6.9 percent from 2015 to 2019, below the national average. Quebec (7.5 percent increase), Ontario (nine percent increase), and British Columbia (13 percent increase) – all with much lower spending. Alberta spends $5.4 billion a year on physicians, the highest level ever in the province and the highest per capita of all provinces.
This includes $81 million a year to support rural physician recruitment and retention through various programs. Changes were made to protect rural health care access, including abolishing the $60,000 cap on the Rural and Remote Northern Program (RRNP), making this the most generous incentive in the country.
After the controversial Order-in-Council that began restructuring the physician compensation model and drew the ire of some while lauding praise from others, 42 percent of 1,470 Alberta physicians questioned between June 24 and July 3 considered leaving the province. The Alberta government remained firm on their position, despite a public relations campaign by the Alberta Medical Association that pushed back against the government.
In a recent statement by the president of AMA, Christine Molnar, she argues that "Government policies and decisions have impacted our livelihoods, our families, our practices and our ability to fulfill our duty to our patients."
"We are experiencing this in the midst of an unprecedented, global health crisis with COVID-19. To that heavy burden, add threat and pressure from a government that is moving to reshape our health care system without the meaningful advice of organized medicine or patients."
The Order-in-Council that tore up the physician contract saved Alberta taxpayers $2-billion over the next three years, whose primary focus is to improve the quality of frontline service and reduce time spent on paperwork and other administrative tasks.