Manitoba lags in physician recruitment and retention, new report says

A new report from Doctors Manitoba on the province’s physician shortage points to more trouble ahead, if physician recruitment and retention efforts don’t improve soon. 

The report from the advocacy group, released Wednesday morning, shows that while the number of practising physicians in Manitoba has increased annually since 2012, the province has the lowest growth rate in the number of physicians per capita among Canadian provinces.

Between 2001 and 2020, the number of physicians per 100,000 people grew by 19 per cent in Manitoba, according to the report. The national average over that period was 29 per cent.

By comparison, New Brunswick saw a 58 per cent increase — the highest in the country, the report says.

As of 2020, Manitoba had 216 physicians per 100,000 residents — the third-lowest number in Canada, ahead only of Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. For family physicians, Manitoba ranked last, with 108 family doctors per 100,000 people.

The national average for physicians was 242 per 100,000 people.

To meet that average, Manitoba would need to hire 349 more doctors, the report says.

“There’s both a recruitment and a retention challenge,” Doctors Manitoba spokesperson Keir Johnson said.

A Doctors Manitoba survey of its members conducted this year found that 40 per cent of physicians said they planned to either move out of province, retire or reduce their hours in the next three years, said Johnson.

The good news, he says, is that most of the reasons that physicians cited are preventable.

“They’re fixable. They’re system issues. And that’s where we see the opportunity to work with the government and to work with Shared Health and other partners on tackling issues like burnout,” Johnson said. 

Recruitment challenges

When it comes to recruitment, one contributing factor is the number of doctors that are being trained in Manitoba.

The University of Manitoba accepts 110 new medical students each year, but that hasn’t increased in years and hasn’t kept up with population growth, Johnson says.

In an emailed statement, the university said the last time capacity in the medicine program increased was 2008. Out of the 1,097 applications the school received for the class of 2026 (which started this fall), 286 made it to the interview process.

But training doctors within the province is just one piece of the puzzle, Johnson says, and it doesn’t yield quick results.

“If [the university] expanded spaces today, it would take six to nine years for those people to become physicians working in Manitoba. So it is an important part of this, but it’s a longer term solution.”

Johnson pointed to Saskatchewan as a source for potential solutions to recruitment challenges, like its provincial physician recruiting agency, which offers interested applicants information to help to decide if moving to Saskatchewan is right for them.

“We need to find a better way of working together to sell that total package,” said Johnson.

During a summit in Portage la Prairie last month, Doctors Manitoba heard from one physician who had to jump through hoops to get information about moving here, he said.

“They had to go to five different organizations to get all the information they needed to figure out if they wanted to come to Manitoba,” said Johnson. “And it took them hours to kind of compile a good profile of what it would be like to work here.”

The goal of the summit was to hear about rural Manitoba physician shortages. Doctors Manitoba plans to release a report with its findings by the end of the month.

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