Rural communities across Alberta are facing a shortage of physicians, forcing rural Albertans to travel long distances to seek medical care. The government is working with post-secondary institutions to train more physicians in rural areas because students who learn in rural communities are more likely to stay and work in them after completing their training.

Alberta’s government is supporting collaborative efforts from the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic to develop new Rural Medical Education Program Training Centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie. The University of Calgary will partner with the University of Lethbridge to develop the new training centre in Lethbridge, and the University of Alberta will partner with Northwestern Polytechnic to develop the new training centre in Grande Prairie.

Albertans deserve access to timely medical care in every corner of our province. Establishing the new training centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie is the first of many steps to solve the rural physician shortage. Advanced Education is committed to increasing support for Alberta’s medical schools and providing significant support to encourage more physicians to live and practice in rural settings.”

Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Advanced Education

“Addressing health care staffing challenges in rural Alberta is one of our top priorities. We are implementing a wide range of actions to attract and retain physicians in rural communities, and these regional training centres are part of that work. They will provide excellent training opportunities for rural medical students and at the same time, will strengthen the local primary health care system and help take pressures off local emergency departments.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health

Together, the training centres will contribute more than 100 practicing physicians every year and will offer hands-on learning experiences in rural communities surrounding the training centres. Students will train alongside other health professionals, gaining practical medical experience while serving rural patients.

Once up and running, the training centres will provide primary care in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, with each general practitioner in the teaching clinic caring for approximately 1,200 patients. These clinics will also operate after regular hours to reduce congestion in local emergency departments, adding much needed primary-care capacity.

“Access to a family physician is an incredible challenge for many families in small- to mid-sized centres across southern Alberta – including rural and Indigenous communities. Investing in a program that recruits local students, and trains them in areas across southern Alberta, will lead to more doctors practicing in those areas for decades to come.”

Digvir Jayas, Ph.D., president and vice-chancellor, University of Lethbridge

There has never been more demand for dedicated and skilled medical professionals with ties to rural communities. Northwestern Polytechnic is grateful for the opportunity to be part of a collaborative way forward that will help attract, educate and retain the physicians needed in our northernmost communities and across Alberta.”

Dr. Vanessa Sheane, president and CEO, Northwestern Polytechnic

Budget 2024 investments would be used for both capital and clinic operations in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge. This includes renovations to accommodate local student training, including the addition of classrooms as well as simulation and clinical training to meet accreditation standards. Of the total funding, $43.2 million in capital funding will be provided for the new training centre in Lethbridge, $55.6 million will support operating expenses for the training centres in both Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, and an additional $126 million will support the overall physician training expansion.

"This is an important investment in medical education and primary healthcare in our province. These regional training centres will give more students access to a world-class education with hands-on training in rural settings. I'm proud that we can play a leading role in building a more robust healthcare system in Alberta."

Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor, University of Alberta

“We’re excited about this important program expansion between the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge, which will open more doors of opportunity to attract, educate and retain the health workforce that is greatly needed in rural areas. The collective efforts of this post-secondary network will help to deliver quality health care and continuity of care across our province for years to come.”

Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor, University of Calgary

This investment builds off work funded in 2023, when Advanced Education provided $1 million to a Working Group on Rural Physicians to explore the feasibility of expanding Alberta’s medical training pathways with the goal of improving access to physicians in rural and remote areas of the province.

Quick facts

  • The Ministries of Health and Advanced Education are jointly responsible for the education of physicians in Alberta.
  • Currently, there are two Doctor of Medicine programs in Alberta: one at the University of Alberta and one at the University of Calgary.
  • Since 2022, Alberta’s government has invested more than $225 million to create more than 12,500 new seats at post-secondary institutions across the province, including more than 3,700 seats in healthcare related programs.
  • Alberta’s government is working with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary to increase the number of undergraduate medical training seats, residency positions for newly graduated doctors and residency positions for international medical graduates.
  • The Rural Medical Education Program Training Centres will use a distributed medical education model - a program in which universities partner with local institutions to develop regional training campuses where medical students complete most of their medical education outside metropolitan regions.

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