The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta recently released their fourth quarter Physician Resources in Alberta update for 2021.
According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, there were 11,153 registered physicians at the end of December 2021. That’s a net decrease of 14 over the previous quarter and a net increase of 33 over the same period in 2020.
Of the 18 communities listed in their report, all but 8 saw a net decrease of registered physicians over the last quarter. Leduc had the largest net increase, at 9, and Calgary had the second highest, at 7. Edmonton saw the largest decrease, at 12, followed by Lethbridge, at 8.
That quarterly net increase of 14 was a result of 142 new registrations and 156 cancellations:
- 85 new registrations
- 13 restored registrations
- 40 returning to Alberta
- 4 who came out of retirement
- 90 left Alberta
- 16 erased their own registrations
- 9 were removed
- 0 died
- 41 retired
Of the new registrations, 40 were for physicians returned to Alberta and 59 who were trained outside of Alberta. When we compare that with the 90 who left Alberta, we get a net migration of 9 physicians into the province. Remember, that is for registrations. Theoretically, a doctor could leave Alberta but maintain their registration in the province.
The numbers reflect the physicians who maintained an active licence within the applicable quarter; it cannot be interpreted as those who are actively practising. . . . These counts do not necessarily reflect physicians’ functional area of practice, or even if they have an active clinical practice.“Methodology”. Physician Resources in Alberta Quarterly Update: Oct 01, 2020 to Dec 30, 2021, pp. 1,3.
Let’s look at the registration numbers over the last 5 years or so (I couldn’t find any CPSA data beyond 2016):
Let’s look at all the fourth quarters together. First, we’ll compare fourth quarter registrations to third quarter registrations.
While it might seem like good news that Alberta saw more physician registrations in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter, it’s important to remember that every fourth quarter sees an increase over the third quarter.
Which is why it’s important to look at the fourth quarter performance to that of other fourth quarters. And when we do, we see that this is the worst year-over-year performance in the last 6 years.
And by a lot. We’ve gone from a 3.5% increase in 2016 to a 0.3% increase in 2021. In absolute numbers, 2016 saw a year-over-year increase of 340 new registrations in the fourth quarter, yet 2021 saw an increase of only 33.
Not only that, but this now makes 5 years in a row with the worst fourth quarter performance. Last year’s fourth quarter increase of 1.57% was the worst we had seen since at least 2016, but that was overshadowed this year.
And here are the 6 fourth quarters with how much they’ve changed from the previous fourth quarter.
Physician registrations in the fourth quarter last year weren’t the worst we’ve seen since 2016, but they’re the second worst. Last year’s loss of 0.29% was larger than this year’s loss of 0.13%
Prior to last year, the worst increase over the third quarter was in 2017, when we actually saw a 0.03% decrease.
So, not only did we see the second largest quarter-over-quarter decrease in fourth-quarter registrations over the last 6 years, but also we saw the smallest year-over-year increase. No matter how you look at it, there are fewer physicians registering in Alberta. Far fewer.
Now how do they break down by where they came from and where they went to?
Well, 26 of the 85 new registrations were from people trained in the province, compared to 20 in 2020. 59 were new registrations from outside Alberta and 13 were “restored”. In 2020, those numbers were 51 and 3, respectively, in the third quarter.
There were 40 registrations for physicians who returned to Alberta, compared to 16 in 2020. However, 90 of the 156 cancelled registrations were from physicians who left the province, as I pointed out earlier, leaving a net migration gain of 9 physicians when added to the 59 registrations from physicians trained from outside Alberta.
When you add up all registrations cancelled because physicians moved to other provinces, there were 140 in total during 2021. And there were 55 new registrations from doctors returning to Alberta. That’s a net migration loss of 85 registrations.
Of the remaining 26 cancellations, 41 retired and 0 died, compared to 37 and 1 in 2020. As well, there were 9 removed registrations. These were for physicians who were suspended or were licensed for a limited period and have since been removed from the register. This number was 8 in the first quarter of 2020.
Finally, 16 physicians voluntarily erased their registrations. During the fourth quarter of 2020, 17 did so.
Oh, and I just want to point out that out of those 11,153 registered physicians, only 3,702 are registered in family medicine, which works out to be about 1 family doctor for every 1,206 residents. At the end of September 2021, Alberta had 1 family doctor for every 1,202 residents.