In 2010, then Oak Bay-Gordon Head Liberal MLA Ida Chong promised, on behalf of the BC Liberal government, that everyone in BC who wanted a family doctor would have one by 2015.
Instead, BC has fallen even further behind. In 2010, 176,000 BC families were looking for a family physician. That number has now jumped to 200,000.
“It just takes a long time to train a good family physician”
According to Dr. Martin Dawes, head of UBC’s Department of Family Practice in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, it’s too early to panic just yet.
Dr. Dawes says the family physician gap can’t be closed with a quick fix. He says measures have already been put in place to address the issue, but they take time to take hold. In the past 5 years, residency programs in BC have increased their positions by 50% and are now the largest in the country.
“One hundred and sixty-six doctors will enter residency programs in July.”
Dawes says residency programs have opened around the province and, in a way, the crisis has helped attract medical students to family practice. In 2002, at the height of the family physician shortage, just 20% of medical students wanted to move into family practice. Today, Dawes says that number is in the mid-40s, one of the highest in the country. Dawes says family physicians play a crucial role in the health care system.
“A family physician is the person who make the diagnosis. They make about 250,000 diagnosis per year for a full-time physician. Anything can walk through the door, any of 450 conditions so intellectually, it really is a challenging position.”
Slow but sure
Dawes believes the shortage of family physicians will last at least another 2-3 years before British Columbians notice a change. He says more nurse practitioners and other health care providers will help the situation, as will allowing family doctors to set up collective practice.
“We are seeing progress. Huge progress has been made already. I think we should acknowledge what the government’s done.”
Dawes says more family doctors could help alleviate overcrowded waiting ERs and increase preventive care measures.
“You’ve got to trust the healthcare professional before you’ll take their advice. That’s where family physicians come in – the relationship is already there.”