Lethbridge still has fewer doctors than in 2019

Lethbridge got 13 more physicians in 2023, so far, but it still has fewer than it did when the UCP took power.

Recently, I wrote a news story about the number of registered physicians in Alberta.

I decided to go through the physician registrations from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to see what information I could find about doctors in the Lethbridge region specifically, rather than the province as a whole.

First, here’s the number of registrations per year for each of the health zones since 2016.

Support independent journalism


There’s some interesting data in there.

Every health zone saw an increase in the number of registered physicians in that zone. Except one. The South Zone was the only health zone to see a drop in physician registrations between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the fourth quarter of 2022.

Calgary saw the largest increase, at 173. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that they’re the largest city in the province. Naturally, Edmonton had the second highest.

Now, let’s look at Lethbridge physicians specifically. Below is the number of registrations for each quarter since 2016, as well as the quarter-over-quarter percent change.

QuarterRegistrations% change
2023 Q32914.30%
2023 Q22791.45%
2023 Q1275-1.08%
2022 Q42781.46%
2022 Q3274-1.44%
2022 Q22780.72%
2022 Q1276-4.50%
2021 Q4289-2.69%
2021 Q32971.71%
2021 Q2292-0.34%
2021 Q1293-2.98%
2020 Q4302-2.58%
2020 Q33105.44%
2020 Q22941.03%
2020 Q1291-7.91%
2019 Q43162.60%
2019 Q33084.76%
2019 Q22941.03%
2019 Q1291-0.34%
2018 Q42922.46%
2018 Q32851.42%
2018 Q22811.81%
2018 Q1276-2.13%
2017 Q4282-1.05%
2017 Q32854.01%
2017 Q22740.74%
2017 Q12720.74%
2016 Q42701.12%
2016 Q32672.30%
2016 Q22610.38%
2016 Q1260-0.01%

Here it is in graph form.

First, the total number of registrations.

We see that more or less, physician registrations in Lethbridge had been rising for about 4 years, hitting their peak in the final quarter of 2019. Over the past three years or so, however, the numbers had been dropping. There was a bit of a surge during the start of the pandemic, but the next 10 quarters completely wiped out those gains.

Not only that, but throughout 2022, physician registrations were at some of their lowest levels since the 2nd quarter of 2017, when they were at 274. During 2022, registrations hovered around the 276 mark, varying between only 274 and 278.

At the end of 2019, registrations had peaked at 316. That means, that even with an net increase of 13 doctors during the first 3 quarters of this year, we’re still short 25 physician registrations.

Keep in mind that the population of Lethbridge has also increased during that time, which means that not only do we have fewer registered physicians, but the ones we do have are having to serve more people.

During the 2019 municipal census, the City of Lethbridge reported a population of 101,482. That means 1 doctor for every 345.18 people.

By comparison, there were 106,550 people living in Lethbridge in 2023, according to this year’s census. The ratio of physicians to people has jumped to 1 for every 366.15 people. And that’s assuming no more people moved here in the 4 months that followed.

In other words, each doctor is theoretically responsible for an extra 21 people. And that’s not counting anyone from outside Lethbridge coming into the city to see a doctor.

Next, the % change from quarter to quarter.

Looking at the data this way shows us some interesting information.

First, of the 18 quarters that the UCP government have been in power, 8 of them had negative growth. Not only that, but 5 of them were larger decreases than the other 4 periods of decreases in the previous 3 years.

In fact, in the first quarter of 2020—the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—Lethbridge saw its largest single decrease in physician registrations during this 5-year period.

Lethbridge lost 25 physician registrations as the pandemic was starting. That’s 1 in 13 physicians.

If we average all the increases and decreases since the UCP took office, we see a net decrease of 0.19% in Lethbridge, which works out to a loss of 1 registration every quarter, on average.

Over the last 4 quarters, Lethbridge saw 2 quarters with an increase in registrations, but it was barely enough to make up for the losses in the other 2. If we add them all up, Lethbridge averaged 0.099% more registrations per quarter during that time.

In other words, it’d take 10 quarters (or 2.5 years) at that rate to get just 1 new doctor. And that’s if we round up.

Let’s compare the third quarter of 2023 with previous third quarters.

The third quarter of 2023 saw the third largest year-over-year increase in the number of registered physicians of the 7 most recent third quarters.

For the 5 third quarters that the UCP have been in power, we’ve had 2 decreases and 3 increases. We have seen an average third quarter change in physician registrations for Lethbridge of 1.45% since 2016.

And finally, not only are the 291 physician registrations lower than they were at their peak at the end of 2019, they’re lower than they were when the UCP took power.

Lethbridge has 3 fewer physician registrations now than it did during the first quarter when they took office.

Keep in mind that College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta doesn’t break down the area of speciality of the physician registrations at the municipality level.

That means the 13 new registrations that took place in Lethbridge over the last year may have been family physicians, but they may have also been all specialists.

Support independent journalism

By Kim Siever

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

Comment on this story

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.