5 ways Canada’s physician workforce is changing

FILE: A physician wears a stethoscope. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

TORONTO – As Canada’s population ages, health officials are warning that the country will need more doctors. A new report suggests that for the seventh year in a row, Canada’s physician workforce has grown.

The number of doctors increased even faster than the population did. There are also more women in medicine, more graduates coming out of medical school, and more doctors pouring into the country than leaving.

These findings are coming out of the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s latest report released Tuesday. It’s providing a snapshot of what health care costs and the physician workforce in Canada currently looks like.

READ MORE: By the numbers: Doctors’ fees across Canada

Here’s what you need to know from the report:

The doctor-to-patient ratio is improving: The number of Canadian doctors on hand is increasing at a “considerably faster rate” than the general population. In 2013 alone, Canada had more than 77,600 doctors – a 3.4 per cent increase from 2012. There are now 220 doctors per 100,000 people. And this growth isn’t slowing down – it’s the seventh year in a row that CIHI documented this increase. Based on medical school graduates, the number of doctors joining the workforce is expected to steadily climb.

Regional breakdown: The Yukon Territories and Nunavut were the only areas that didn’t report an increase. Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories saw the biggest gains.

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Canadian doctors aren’t getting any older: Over the past five years, the average age of doctors sat at 50 years old, regardless of if they were practicing in family medicine or as specialists. CIHI suggests it’s the increasing number of young doctors entering the workforce that’s maintaining this median age. In 2009, the average age was 49.7 and by 2013, the number barely had moved, sitting at 50.3.

Regional breakdown: The average age across the country ranges from 48 to 52 – nothing significant. It’s doctors in Newfoundland and Alberta that are the youngest and doctors in Ontario and P.E.I. who were the oldest.

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There are more women in the physician workforce: It’s especially the case for family doctors. CIHI says that between 2009 and 2013, the number of women in the field increased by a whopping 22.5 per cent. Men taking on postings as physicians increased by only 9.2 per cent. Last year, 43 per cent of family doctors were women. Across the board, they make up a larger proportion of family doctors than specialists.

Regional breakdown: Quebec, New Brunswick and nova Scotia had the highest proportion of women in their physician workforces. P.E.I., Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the lowest percentages.

Some doctors are getting their education outside of the country: Exactly one in four Canadian doctors are internationally trained, CIHI says. About 28 per cent of family doctors and 22.4 per cent of specialists get their MD degrees abroad. Those percentages are increasing just slightly – 23.9 per cent in 2009 to 25 per cent in 2013.

Regional breakdown: Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Manitoba had the largest proportions of internationally-trained doctors. Quebec and P.E.I., on the other hand, had the lowest.

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But they’re bringing their skills back to practice: While 25 per cent of the country’s doctors are trained abroad, there are more physicians coming home, the report says. There was a net gain of 40 doctors from international migration in 2013. And within the country’s borders, 780 doctors moved within the provinces and territories – that’s only one per cent of the physician workforce. That statistic has stayed the same since the late 1970s, CIHI says.

It costs about $58.15 to see the doctor. The average doctor received $328,000, but that isn’t necessarily their take-home pay. Family physicians bill an average of $43.35 per service while specialists bill $77.69. In the 2012-2013 year, the total payout to doctors hit $22.8 billion. It sounds like a hefty price tag, but CIHI says it’s a 3.5 per cent increase, the lowest growth in more than a decade. Doctors’ payout was more or less stagnant compared to last year – it’s $328,000 gross, but this is what they get to work with to cover his or her services, salary, everyday tasks, staff and client list.

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