On Campus

Alberta needs more family doctors

U of C might have the solution

The University of Calgary has found a way to bring more family doctors into Alberta.

According to an article from the Calgary Herald, Alberta needs hundreds of family physicians in both urban and rural areas. With an estimated 200,000 Calgarians without a family doctor, the city needs at least 150 new doctors, along with another 150 rural doctors.

It’s sort of a doctor shortage within a doctor shortage: we need more doctors, but we especially need more family physicians.

In the past, there weren’t nearly enough family doctors coming out of the U of C. In 2007, the department of family medicine accounted for 18 per cent of the school’s total graduating class, much lower than the national average of 33 per cent. At the time, the U of C held the second-lowest rate in the country. “The only school that had fewer students choosing family medicine was McGill (University in Montreal),” said Cathy MacLean, the head of family medicine at the U of C, in an interview with the Herald. MacLean said it was an alarming situation, considering the fact that the U of C’s medical school was founded to train more family doctors.

Fortunately, things are changing. This year, 24 per cent of the U of C’s medical graduates are on the way to becoming family physicians.

The article from the Herald describes some of the changes that lead to this turnaround. Dr. John Keegan was hired as undergraduate director of family medicine to promote and oversee the program, and the clerkship for family medicine was increased to six weeks (it was originally four). The department hopes this extended hands-on experience will translate into an increased interest in family medicine, as students gain more exposure to the field. Additionally, the department increased the number of family doctor teachers.

Despite the extra family doctors on the way, there’s still room for improvement. “We have a large number of people in the Calgary area without family physicians,” Dr. Valerie Congdon, AHS’s acting head of family medicine and the head of rural medicine for the Calgary zone, told the Herald.

The U of C is on the right track, but officials want even more students to choose family medicine. They hope that by 2013, half of all graduating medical students will become family doctors.

More med school news:

McGill eliminates MCAT requirements

Does the MCAT discriminate against francophones?

McGill wants ‘non-traditional’ medical students

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.