Alberta lost over 350 physician registrations so far in 2021

Even with new registrations, there’s still a net decrease of over 250, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta recently released their 1st quarter Physician Resources in Alberta update for 2021.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, there were 10,866 registered physicians at the end of March 2021. That’s a net decrease of 254 during this past quarter and a net increase of 111 during the same period in 2020.

Of the 18 communities listed in their report, 14 saw a net decrease of registered physicians over the last quarter. Unsurprisingly, Calgary and Edmonton had the largest net decrease, at 113 and 61 respectively. Lethbridge was next, at a loss of 9. Medicine Hat had the largest net increase, at 6 new registration. There were 43 fewer registrations among all other locations in the provinces (outside the initial 18).

That quarterly net decrease of 254 was a result of 98 new physician registrations and the cancellation of 352 registrations.

Of those cancellations, about 23 were for physicians who left the province. As well, 5 of the new registrations were for physicians returned to Alberta, which gives us a net migration of 18 physicians out of 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, 2020, 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):

Jan–Mar 202110,866-2.3%
Oct–Dec 202011,120-0.3%
Jul–Sep 202011,1522.3%
Apr–Jun 202010,9050.9%
Jan–Mar 202010,812-1.2%
Oct–Dec 201910,9480.4%
Jul–Sep 201910,9062.9%
Apr–Jun 201910,5990.8%
Jan–Mar 201910,519-1.5%
Oct–Dec 201810,6740.4%
Jul–Sep 201810,6302.7%
Apr–Jun 201810,3510.7%
Jan–Mar 201810,274-1.0%
Oct–Dec 201710,3760.0%
Jul–Sep 201710,3792.9%
Apr–Jun 201710,0881.0%
Jan–Mar 20179,991-0.6%
Oct–Dec 201610,0480.0%
Jul–Sep 201610,0433.4%
Apr–Jun 20169,7131.2%
Jan–Mar 20169,596-1.2%

Let’s look at all the first quarters together. First, we’ll compare first quarter registrations to fourth quarter registrations.

This is the worst quarter-over-quarter performance in the last 6 years.

To be fair, every one of these 6 first quarters saw a decrease; however the 2021 first quarter was the worse, and the only one to be have dropped by more than 2%. In fact, it was a 57% larger drop than the next largest, which was in 2019.

The first quarter typically has the lowest net increases to physician registrations in any given year, so the fact that this is the largest net decrease of any of the 6 first quarters is significant.

And here are the 6 first quarters with how much they’ve changed from the previous first quarter.

Once again, physician registrations in the first quarter this year saw the smallest increase of all the first quarters since 2016, by a long shot.

Before this year, the smallest increase was in 2019, when registrations were up by 2.38%. Every first quarter since 2016 has seen a year-over-year increase. But this one’s barely an increase: less than 1%. The actual increase was 54 registrations. The year before, the first quarter registrations were up by 293, more than 5 times the amount of this year.

So, not only did we see the largest quarter-over-quarter decrease in first-quarter registrations over the last 6 years, but we also 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, there 28 of the 599 new registrations were from people trained in the province, compared to 30 in 2020. 54 were new registrations from outside Alberta, 10 were “restored”, and 1 came out of retirement. In 2020, those numbers were 80, 16, and 3, respectively, in the first quarter.

There were 5 registrations for physicians who returned to Alberta, compared to 3 in 2020. However, 23 of the 352 cancelled registrations were from physicians who left the province, as I pointed out earlier, leaving a net migration loss of 18 physicians.

Of the remaining 329 cancellations, 129 retired and 3 died, compared to 106 and 5 in 2020. As well, there were 69 removed registrations. These were for physicians who were suspended or were licensed for a limited period of time and have since been removed from the register. This number was 62 in the first quarter of 2020.

Finally, 128 physicians voluntarily erased their registrations. This is significantly larger than what it was in the first quarter of 2020, when it was only 82. That’s more than 50% higher.

Oh, and I just want to point out that out of those 10,866 registered physicians, only 3,544 are registered in family medicine, which works out to be about 1 family doctor for every 1,252 residents. At the end of 2020, Alberta had 1 family doctor for every 1,150 residents.

Speaking of per capita doctors, here’s how the registration numbers look based on the population numbers for each year.

Alberta Population Estimates, 1951 to 2020 (Data file)

RegistrationsPersons per
per 1,000

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

9 replies on “Alberta lost over 350 physician registrations so far in 2021”

I am a family physician who has recently acquired my BC license and am not giving up my Alberta license yet. To get my BC license I did have to get approval from the CPSA saying I had no outstanding issues (a certificate of professional certification or CPC), so they should be able to track how many physicians are applying for licenses out of province (even if keeping Alberta for now). That number compared to previous years would be really interested if it could be found.

Kim, it would also be helpful to see how many new registrations were needed per population increase (inflation) compared to the decrease in registrations (deflation). The percentage gap would certainly be larger (I am guessing at least double) and a more and meaningful representation of the problem.

Another point is that a large portion of those family doctors don’t actually practice general family medicine (they may work in an area of special interest like palliative care, sport medicine etc), which means far fewer family doctors that are actually available to patients who need a family doctor for general concerns.

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