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For the first time in Alberta’s history, we now have over 11,000 doctors registered to work here.
This puts to shame the lie, backed by nothing more than disinformation from the NDP and thin reporting, that doctors are leaving the province. In the real world, Alberta remains an amazing place to live and to practise medicine. Our doctors are the highest-paid and live in the lowest-taxed province in Canada. Doctors from across Canada, and indeed the world, want to live and work here.
Last week, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), the independent body which regulates doctors, released their third-quarter report on how many doctors are registered to work here. It shows a net gain of 246 doctors or a 2.3% increase over the last year. Broken down by gender, Alberta gained 173 female doctors and 73 male doctors. This is consistent with the CPSA’s 5-year history of registration statistics, which shows a steady increase of doctors practising in the province.
Dig deeper into the report and you see that 9 doctors returned to Alberta, 142 are newly-licensed Alberta trainees, and 139 are new to Alberta but trained somewhere else. You can also see something more important. For those who aren’t working in Alberta anymore, 4 gave up their licence, 5 were suspended, 3 passed away, and 22 retired. The number who left Alberta: 13.
The third-quarter report is a snapshot in time and should be taken with a grain of salt, but taking a hard look at the information contained within and comparing it to trends seen in previous years shows no striking changes. This gives patients in Alberta a glimpse of what we know to be true, but critics ignore: hundreds of physicians come and go every year for different reasons, all of them perfectly understandable.
It’s not easy to talk about how much taxpayers should pay Alberta’s doctors. We pay our 11,000 doctors over $5 billion. That’s 10% of the entire provincial budget. The right amount should take into account the province’s financial situation, generously compensate doctors, and consider regional differences.
I believe we’ve made every effort to do exactly that. For example, this spring we brought in the most comprehensive plan in Canada for recruiting and retaining doctors in our rural communities: increasing how much we pay rural doctors, purchasing dedicated spots in medical schools for students willing to commit to working in rural Alberta, and a raft of other changes.
We’ve made other adjustments over the last few months as we’ve strived to find the right balance between the province’s finances and compensating doctors. Discussions with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) continue and we remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement that is acceptable to the AMA and taxpayers.
Talking about how much doctors are paid isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. We can have that debate, and it can be noisy. But scaring patients by falsely claiming that doctors are leaving our province is a line that nobody should be willing to cross.
Tyler Shandro served as Minister of Health from April 30, 2019 to September 21, 2021.