Despite a new national health report saying Canada has the most doctors it has ever had, Kamloops is still lacking.
“We’re still really low. We identify with some of the rural communities as one that’s in desperate need of primary care,” said Dr. Shirley Sze, president of the Thompson Region Division of Family Practice.
Sze was commenting on the Canadian Institute of Health Information’s report that Canada counted 75,000 physicians in 2012 and their pay rose on average by nine per cent in 2011-12.
But there’s more to the story than simple numbers, she said.
Kamloops has many family doctors on the brink of retiring in the next five to 10 years. And the number of young doctors to replace them falls short.
“What we’re seeing in our community . . . and across the country, is a disproportionate amount of doctors who are 50 and older,” she said.
“When the young doctors come out of school, they’re going more into emergency or hospital medicine. They’re very much needed, but they’re not going into family practice because you also have to run your own office.”
The other down side is family doctors have difficulty taking time off, because there’s no one to fill in for them.
On the other hand, the city is well off when it comes to specialists. In fact, between seven and 10 are in the process of being recruited.
Sze said creating the family medicine residency program that starts at RIH in 2014 will bring six residents to Kamloops for two years of training.
She hopes some of those residents will like the city enough to stay permanently.
The division has also been given funding to collect data about where the doctor gaps are in Kamloops.
“It won’t be quick, we want a thoughtful process for doing it,” she said.
The CIHI report states the percentage of family doctors versus specialists graduating from medical school is about 50/50. Sze said it should be about 40 per cent specialists and 60 per cent family doctors.
There are even doctors in sub-specialties who can’t find jobs, she said. But in some cases, it’s that they can’t access operating room time or other facilities they need to work in.
To keep up with attrition, B.C. needs at least 400 more doctors a year, she said.
“Right now, medical school capacity is training about 300 and we’ll probably get 100 international medical grads,” she said.
But many of those grads are attracted to the amenities of bigger cities, or they like the financial incentives available for going to rural communities. Kamloops falls in between those two.
“We’re trying to attract some small groups of young doctors who worked the way we used to, but you have to make it attractive because it’s competitive.”