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Exploring the "Universe" of the Physician Employment Market in Alberta



While this exploration of the universe may not be as exciting as the journey of the Millennium Falcon or the Starship Enterprise (choose sides if you may), exploring the physician labor market here in Alberta is equally interesting and is certainly more important.


My Name is Scott, I am the Brand Awareness Student here at Joberfer. I may not come from a medical background (currently a Master of Management candidate at the University of Calgary), I have always been fascinated by finding trends in groups. Beginning my work with Joberfer in January, I conducted research into “mapping the universe” of physicians in Alberta. What I discovered was equal parts fascinating and concerning. 


With that being said, let me give you a tour of this universe. 


How Many Physicians are there?


15,911


Here's your answer! This is every physician currently registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA). Every doctor, surgeon and other specialist you can think of who is legally allowed to practice in Alberta is part of that number. 


Breaking it down by region, most physicians reside in Calgary, with Alberta’s largest city home to 5,083 Physicians. The provincial capital is close behind, with Edmonton having 4,032 physicians within its city limits. Elsewhere, you will find 382 physicians in Red Deer, 307 in Lethbridge and 173 in Grande Prairie. 


Source: CPSA Physician Directory


Looking at the types of physicians in Alberta, there are currently 6,125 physicians who practice family medicine/general practice medicine. That is one family doctor for every 700 Albertans. The rest are either specialists in non-family medicine (dermatologists, internists, pediatricians, ext.) or Non-specialists, who are allowed to practice, but do not have the certifications to be designated under a specific specialty.  



Source: CPSA 2022 Physician Resources in Alberta Q4 Report 


Where do they come from?


The best way to describe the origin of physicians in Alberta is with three distinct groups: The Established, The New Guard, and The Transfers. 


The Established physicians in Alberta are what comes to mind for most. They are physicians who are certified with CPSA and have lived and worked in Alberta for a long time. 


The New Guard describes Residents and newly certified physicians from Alberta’s two medical schools: The Cumming School of Medicine (University of Calgary) and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (University of Alberta).  


Lastly, The Transfers are physicians who received their medical training outside of Alberta and have recently moved to the province, either from elsewhere in Canada or Abroad. 


Looking through CPSA reports, we can conclude that The Transfers are the key source of physicians historically and for the future. According to these reports, of the 12,000 physicians reported on, 3,777 of them were educated outside of Canada and the United States and a further 2,986 were educated elsewhere in Canada. In addition, of the 137 physicians added to the register in the last quarter of 2022, 73 were trained outside of Canada and 49 graduated elsewhere in Canada. 


To break it down in a single sentence: Alberta relies heavily on outside institutions and immigration into the province to provide new physicians.  



Source: CPSA 2022 Physician Resources in Alberta Q4 Report 


So What's the Issue?


Simply put, there are a lot of job postings and not a lot of doctors looking to change clinics.


The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has estimated around 650,000 (15%) Albertans are seeking a family doctor, with only 200 physicians currently accepting patients across the province. Rural clinics are reporting severe shortages in staff and the AMA reported that 61% of physicians have considered exiting the Alberta health care system. In addition, 57% reported their practice’s financial health to be poor and 41% believing their practices will be financially unviable within a year.   



Source: Alberta Medical Association, Family Practice Viability Study, 2024


So what does this mean for the current labor market?


If you are a medical resident completing their MD, You have more than enough options to choose from the moment you step off campus. However, the question becomes whether you would want to establish a practice in Alberta.


If you are a medical clinic looking for more doctors and specialists? Not so good. There are currently very few available, qualified doctors in Alberta to fill all of these positions. As such, when clinics try to post open positions on conventional job sites, they do not get any responses.


If you are an Albertan, this is becoming a potential worse case scenario. With a shortage of physicians in the the labor market, clinics will continue to have shortages, meaning those struggling to find a family doctor will continue to struggle. With many doctors considering leaving the system, many others are at risk of losing their family doctors. This is even worse for those looking to find specialists. For example, there are currently only 93 qualified dermatologists in Alberta, 93! That is one Dermatologist for every 50,000 Albertans. Given there are a dozen postings for dermatologists in Calgary alone on jobsites, you can see why clinics are struggling to employ physicians.


What can we do?


The first step to addressing a problem is to recognize it as such. It is time to admit that the current status quo for online recruitment of medical professionals is fundamentally broken. Ultimately, it will be up to policy makers to ensure enough doctors are available in the province (Next election is in 2025, if you want your say). But until then, it is the responsibility of clinics and jobsites to adapt to the labor shortage and innovate how qualified candidates are discovered and recruited . Right now, simply posting a job on LinkedIn or Indeed is not helping.   


One of the biggest things we must recognize is the key role networking and referrals play in recruitment of medical professionals. Most people know the old adage that three out of every four jobs are filled through networking (“It's not what you know, it's who you know”). However, this is a similar case with the medical profession. From our experience speaking with physicians and clinics, most positions in clinics are filled through referral of physicians by fellow physicians. Traditionally, this is done outside of the confines of the internet.


This is why Joberfer is different. We have recognized that not only do clinics need to provide incentive for physicians to apply, they need to treat the online recruitment process the same way they have offline: Through referrals. Not only does Joberfer have an innovative referral system which pays physicians and residents to refer qualified candidates for open positions, it also has been designed with the medical community in mind.


As we continue to face these challenges head on, I will leave you with a quote from a famous universe explorer, Captain Jean-Luc Picard:


“There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle; it’s just a matter of finding it.” 

 


Research 


Alberta Medical Association. Understanding Alberta's Family Medicine Crisis


Alberta Medical Association. (January 2024). Family Practice Viability Study 


CPSA Physician Directory (Updated)


College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. (2022). Quarterly Update: Oct 01, 2022 to Dec 31, 2022



Written by:

Scott Moore

Masters of Management Student

Haskayne School of Business

University of Calgary


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