Alberta has gained doctors this year despite concerns over exodus

The number of doctors practising in Alberta has increased this year despite fears of an exodus due to a dispute with the UCP government.

There was a net increase of 246 doctors in the province in the third quarter — from the start of July to the end of September — compared to the same period in 2019, according to the quarterly report by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta released Wednesday morning.

Broken down further, it shows a net gain of 331 specialists, year to year, but a net loss of 85 non-specialists. 

Family doctors are considered specialists, but general practitioners, who can be family doctors, are not. 

In addition, the highest growth is from those on the provisional register, meaning doctors who are not yet qualified to be responsible or accountable for their own medical practice without supervision.

Those on the general register increased by 133, or 1.3 per cent, compared to last year, while those on the provisional register increased by 113, or 13.7 per cent. 

The third quarter saw a net gain of 63 doctors on the general register and 184 on the provisional register. 

In total, there are 11,152 registered doctors in the tally. 

Reports of doctors exodus

The figures paint a different picture than ongoing reports of doctors fleeing the province in the wake of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government unilaterally tearing up its master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association. 

That move by the province has sent relations with Alberta’s doctors into a tailspin as the two sides try to negotiate compensation and contracts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recently revealed government documents show some rural areas of the province were considered at risk of a doctor’s exodus earlier this year. 

At the height of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the provincial government’s dispute with doctors, more than 200 physicians were weighing the future of their practices, with 163 deemed to be at “high risk” of altering the services they provide or leaving Alberta altogether, according to internal documents.

The documents, obtained by Alberta’s Opposition NDP through Freedom of Information laws and provided to CBC News, laid out the decisions under consideration by some physicians in the spring and early summer.

Rural communities

As of Oct. 1, those rural communities have not seen a mass exodus of doctors — however, many of them were on a confidential, internal watch list maintained by Alberta Health Services (AHS).

According to the list, 205 doctors in 17 rural towns had told the health authority they were unsure what the future would hold for them.

Only three communities have seen actual departures as of Oct. 1 but, according to the documents, some physicians have agreed to withhold any action until the immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta quarterly report, most regions show a net increase in doctors in 2020, with notable exceptions in Grande Prairie and Fort Saskatchewan.