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New family docs not keeping up with pop. growth

Between the third quarter of 2022 and the third quarter of 2023, Alberta gained 138 physician registrations in family medicine. But that wasn’t enough to keep up with population growth.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta recently released their second quarter Physician Resources in Alberta update for 2023.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, there were 11,608 registered physicians at the end of September 2023. That’s a net increase of 348 over the previous quarter and a net increase of 262 over the same period in 2022.

Of the 18 communities listed in their report, 14 saw a net increase of registered physicians over the last quarter; the remaining 4 saw a net decrease or saw no change in registered physicians.

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Calgary, unsurprisingly, had the largest net increase, at 147, and Edmonton had the second highest, at 119, followed by Lethbridge, at 12. Airdrie was the only city to see a decrease, a net loss of just 1 physician from its previous total of 76.

That quarterly net increase of 349 was a result of 383 new registrations and 34 cancellations:

New

  • 331 new registrations
  • 42 restored registrations
  • 9 returning to Alberta
  • 1 who came out of retirement

Cancelled

  • 5 left Alberta
  • 5 erased their own registrations
  • 13 were removed
  • 3 died
  • 8 retired

Of the new registrations, 9 were for physicians who returned to Alberta and 193 who were trained outside of Alberta. When we compare that with the 5 who left Alberta, we get a net migration of 197 physicians into the province. Remember, that’s 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: Apr 01, 2023 to Jun 30, 2023, 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):

QuarterNumberChange
Jul–Sep 202311,6083.09%
Apr–Jun 202311,2601.15%
Jan–Mar 202311,132-2.4%
Oct–Dec 202211,4070.5%
Jul–Sep 202211,3462.5%
Apr–Jun 202211,0690.9%
Jan–Mar 202210,965-1.7%
Oct–Dec 202111,153-0.1%
Jul–Sep 202111,1672.2%
Apr–Jun 202110,9270.6%
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 third quarters together. First, we’ll compare third quarter registrations to second quarter registrations.

As we can see, the third quarter always sees an increase in physician registrations, when compared to the preceding second quarter. In this case, at 3.09%, the second quarter of 2023 saw the second largest percentage-based increase since at least 2016.

Don’t get excited just yet, however. Remember that the first quarter of 2023 was the largest first quarter decrease since 2016 and it was the largest decrease of any quarter during that same period, both as a percentage (-2.41%) and in total registrations (-275).

So a significant increase in the third quarter would look even more impressive.

Which is why we also must compare it with previous third quarters. Here are the 8 most recent third quarters with how much they’ve changed from the previous third quarter.

Physician registrations in the third quarter of this year weren’t the worst we’ve seen since 2016, compared to the previous year, but they were the fourth worst. Last year’s gain of 1.60% was smaller than this year’s gain of 2.31%, as was 2021’s gain of just 0.13%.

Since the first quarter of 2019, the last quarter before the UCP took power, Alberta physician registrations grew by 1089, or 10.35%.

By comparison, between the same period 4 years prior (first quarter of 2015 until third quarter of 2019), Alberta saw a net increase of 1,745 physician registration under the NDP (and the very start of the UCP’s first term). That’s an increase of 19.05%, almost twice as much as what we saw under the UCP.

Now how do they break down by where they came from and where they went to?

Well, 138 of the 331 new registrations were from people trained in the province, compared to 138 in 2022. 193 were new registrations from outside Alberta and 42 were “restored”. In 2022, those numbers were 166 and 6, respectively, in the third quarter.

There were 9 registrations for physicians who returned to Alberta, compared to 12 in 2022. However, 5 of the 34 cancelled registrations were from physicians who left the province, as I pointed out earlier, leaving a net migration gain of 197 physicians when added to the 193 registrations from physicians trained from outside Alberta.

Of the remaining 29 cancellations, 8 retired and 3 died, compared to 18 and 3 in 2022. As well, there were 13 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 4 in the third quarter of 2022.

Finally, 5 physicians voluntarily erased their registrations. During the third quarter of 2022, 8 did so.

Oh, and I just want to point out that out of those 11,608 registered physicians, only 4,009 are registered in family medicine, which works out to be about 1 family doctor for every 1,171 residents.

At the end of September 2022, Alberta had 1 family doctor for every 1,165 residents. That means, on average, each family doctor is responsible for 6 more potential patients than they were a year ago.

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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.

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