study 585 departed last year: Moving for better working conditions, medical head says
August 10, 2000
Canada is losing doctors at the rate of two to three medical school graduating classes per year, and most fit the profile of the 39-year-old Canadian-educated male specialist, according to a new report.
Over 70% of the exiting physicians received their medical education within the last 10 years, says the Canadian Institute for Health Information report, released yesterday. The findings confirm suggestions that Canada is being drained of its brightest and youngest physicians.
"We're losing the yearly output of two to three medical schools and we're really going to start feeling the impact in 2001," said Dr. Mo Watanabe, retired dean of medicine at the University of Calgary.
"It takes 10 years to produce a medical graduate and we've been decreasing the number of medical students in this country since 1993,"
While 585 doctors left Canada for the U.S. and other countries in 1999 -- an increase of 3%over 1998 -- only 343 returned. The deficit of 242 doctors is not being replenished because of a continual decrease in the number of students entering Canadian medical schools.
The situation alarms Dr. Watanabe.
A 10% decrease in enrolment in the country's medical schools between 1993 and 1997 means in 1980 there were 1,800 Canadian doctors in training, but that number has dropped to 1,500.
Many of the doctors coming into the country are coming on temporary licences, with no intention of remaining, said Dr. Hugh Scully, president of the Canadian Medical Association. The net loss presents a "very real, continuous worry," he said, because older physicians are retiring at an accelerated rate.
"Young physicians ... are leaving for better working conditions and more research opportunities," Dr. Scully said.
Fifty per cent of doctors who leave the country permanently have graduated within the past 10 years and the remaining 50 per cent in the past 15 years, said Dr. Scully. And those doctors are closest to the full range of their education -- young adults who still have lots of energy, he said.
"Our profession is ageing faster than the general population and we're getting tired," Dr. Scully said of the older physicians remaining. "We're not being pushed against the wall, we're at it,"
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information report, the average age of medical specialists in Canada has reached almost 50, and family doctors nearly 46. In 1995, 19.6% of Canadian physicians were in the 50-59 age bracket. Today, that group accounts for 22.8% of physicians.
The biggest demand is in the area of family physicians, where overall numbers increased by 1%, but still fall short of demand.
Newfoundland experienced the largest decrease in family doctors (7.9%), with Yukon a close second (7.7%), followed by the Northwest Territories (6.3%) and Ontario (4.1%). Alberta and Saskatchewan accounted for more than half the 1% increase in the profession.
In provinces such as Ontario, where family doctor numbers have declined, the Ontario College of Family Physicians report doctors in their 70s coming out of retirement or unable to retire because there was no replacement to look after their patients.
Ontario also experienced a 3.2% decrease in the number of physicians
per 100,000 population, while Nova Scotia reported an increase of 7%.