An expanding family of doctors: good news for Ontario
Last week you might have heard about the release of the Family Medicine Expansion Report, released by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU). The report details a very successful decade-long effort by Ontario’s medical schools and the provincial government to deal with a shortage of family doctors.
To set the stage for this, let me first turn the clock back to October 22, 2001.
“Ontarians are not being well served. Family Medicine continues to be in crisis in Ontario… Between 1994 and 2000, the ratio of family doctors per 100,000 Ontario citizens has declined by 10.5%. Ontario remains below the Canadian average and well below the American and European averages in this regard.”
-Where Have All the Family Doctors Gone?
by the Ontario College of Family Physicians
Submitted to The Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Health and Long Term Care
Sobering words. But words that led to action. In 2003, a collaborative effort began between Ontario’s medical schools and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care (MOHLTC) to attract more medical students into family medicine, graduate more family physicians across the province, and partner with more communities to provide training.
The results? Very good news – transformative change to primary health care in this province
- 2.1 million more Ontarians now have access to primary health care
- 1,900 more family doctors have graduated from Ontario’s medical schools over the past decade. We now graduate more than 500 family doctors per year, up from just over 200 per year in 2003 (80 new PGY1 and PGY2 positions have been added at Queen’s)
- More medical students are choosing a career in family medicine because of investments to enhance medical school curriculum (Queen’s has established new teaching sites in Belleville, Peterborough and Oshawa)
- New partnerships mean more than 155 communities across Ontario have recruited new graduates
- Communities have donated generously to support family medicine education infrastructure, saving the government millions of dollars.
- In our local region, Southeastern Ontario, 7.1 percent of our citizens were without a primary care provider in 2003. That percentage has been more than halved to 3.5 percent in 2013
So how did this work? Simple concept, it was a group effort. But, very complicated execution. Educators, practitioners, association, legislators, administrators, 155 communities all came to the table and came together for an interdependent strategy that Involved aggressive capacity building through increased numbers of family physicians trained and community engagement to improve their ability to recruit new graduates. I encourage you to read the report, along with the provincial view it provides a school-by-school highlight of the changes over the past decade.
Let me be clear, the job is not finished. There are still more 600,000 people without regular access to a primary care provider. Regional disparities in physician supply are still here. But overall, I believe the people of Ontario are being better served because of this initiative. I have said many times that our healthcare system is being challenged – the family medicine expansion in Ontario provides a very good model for how we need to respond.
On the home front, I need to express my sincere thanks to Dr. Glenn Brown and the members of the Department of Family Medicine who have contributed magnificently to the change in the vista of family medicine in Ontario. Indeed, Dr. Brown also led the production of the Family Medicine Expansion Report and is the Chair of the Family Medicine committee at the Council of Faculties of Medicine in Ontario.
If you have any comments to share on changes to family medicine – in Ontario and beyond – please respond to this post. Better yet, drop by my office at the Macklem House… my door is always open.