The results of what is known as the “resident match” were announced recently. They clearly show serious damage continues to flow from the thoughtless changes that Tyler Shandro inflicted on Alberta’s health system while he was health minister.
Try as they might, the current minister and the AHS administrator have clearly not reversed the damage that was done to Alberta’s ability to attract new physicians.
For those not familiar with how new doctors finish their training, let me provide a bit of background to the opening paragraphs.
Medical students take their initial training in whichever medical school took them in. In their last year, the students must decide what career path they wish to follow, and where they wish to pursue further training. Those decisions are critical, because it is very difficult to change specialties or training sites after that.
During the fall of their final year, students file their choices with a national body, the Canadian Resident Matching Service, better known as CaRMS. This body compares student and program choices, and assigns students to specific programs and sites. Results are announced in late March. A second round is then conducted to fill vacant slots with Canadian students who did not match in the first round, or other candidates.
The total number of training slots, known as residency positions, in Canada is slightly more than the number of students expected to graduate from Canadian medical schools each year. Most years, there are a small number of vacancies in certain programs.
In the past, family medicine residencies have had only a few vacancies. In southern Alberta, where most of the doctors that ultimately settle in this area train, there have typically been only a few vacant slots. Generally there are less than 10 vacancies for the whole province.
The results this year are devastating for Alberta. There are 42 vacant family medicine positions in the province. For comparison, there are two openings in British Columbia and none in Saskatchewan.
In the south, more than 20 per cent of the slots in Lethbridge are vacant, while Medicine Hat filled less than 30 per cent of its spaces. Those two cities have supplied most of the doctors that have begun practice in this area over the last few years.
In a setting where there is a desperate need for doctors in every area of Canada, the medical students have spoken clearly. They have decided that Alberta is definitely not a place that they want to work and live.
In essence, they have said that they have many choices, almost all of which are promising a stable and predictable work environment. Alberta offers the exact opposite, judging by recent history. Viewed from that perspective, choosing somewhere other than Alberta is a rational decision.
Alberta, and especially rural Alberta, will be trying to attract its future doctors from a group where many of the potential recruits either did not want to come to Alberta or trained in another country initially. Those doctors are unlikely to see any place in Alberta as their desired location when choosing where they will set up practice.
The Shandro shambles will haunt the patients of Alberta, and especially rural Alberta, for years to come.
The two main parties have both promised to spend a lot of money trying to get doctors for rural Alberta. One of them has released a detailed plan on how they will do it. The other party has only promised to spend. Even the president of the Alberta Medical Association has written a note stating that they do not know how the second party will use the promised dollars.
When you vote in May, it would be a good idea to see which party has a viable plan to recruit more doctors to rural Alberta. If the voters make the wrong choice, the staffing woes in Pincher Creek are unlikely to improve.