Older family physicians more likely to narrow scope of practice than
OTTAWA, April 7 /CNW/ - More than 1 in 10 Canadian physicians is age 65
and older, but many doctors remain active in clinical practice after
reaching the traditional retirement age, according to a study released
today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). In 2009, 12% of the active physician population was at least
65, up from 9% five years earlier. However, one-third of doctors in
their senior years were still working full time.
CIHI data also shows that older physicians no longer classified as full
time still carried, on average, 40% of a full workload.
"One in five active physicians in Canada is over the age of 60. With so
many doctors about to reach their so-called retirement years, some
Canadians have expressed concern about whether they will continue to
have access to the medical services they need in the coming years,"
says Michael Hunt, Director of Pharmaceuticals and Health Workforce
Information Services at CIHI. "However, our study shows that physicians
do not tend to retire, in the conventional sense, when they reach age
65. Instead, they slowly wind down their practice over the years. In
addition, thanks to an influx of new medical school graduates, the
number of active physicians working in Canada is on the rise, and the
average age of physicians is stabilizing."
Older family physicians lessen workload, narrow practice
The report, Putting Away the Stethoscope for Good? Toward a New Perspective on
Physician Retirement, found that rather than leave the workforce completely, many older
physicians lessen the intensity of their clinical practice. In 2007, 7%
of physicians age 55 and older, and close to 12% of physicians age 65
and older, became minimally active; that is, they worked 33% or less of
their previous workload.
Although there were no major differences between family physicians in
different age groups with respect to clinical activities, such as
office assessment and mental health care, the older general
practitioners became, the less likely they were to provide certain
services. For example, fewer than 35% of female family physicians age
65 to 69 provided hospital inpatient care, compared with 59% of those
younger than 40. Similarly, 56% of male family physicians age 65 to 69
provided services requiring advanced procedural skills, compared with
77% of those age 40 to 44. This shift in scope of practice was also
evident in family physicians providing obstetrical and anesthetic
services and happened faster among female physicians than among their
More physicians intend to retire than actually leave the workforce
According to the 2007 National Physician Survey, just more than 3% of
all physicians reported that they planned to retire in each of the two
years following the survey. However, CIHI's study found that estimates
of actual retirement rates were significantly lower, with less than 1%
of doctors (between 0.54% and 0.79%) retiring annually from the
workforce in this period.
"In the physician workforce, retirement is not a sudden event," says Dr.
Raymond Pong, a researcher at the Centre for Rural and Northern Health
Research at Laurentian University and author of the study. "Instead, we
see a transition to retirement, with doctors progressively taking on
less work and carefully choosing the work that they do take on. It's a
process that can extend over months and, in some cases, years. As the
proportion of older physicians increases, understanding what they do,
how much they do and how long they stay active is going to become very
important for workforce planning."
Quick facts on physician retirement
In 2009, one-third of physicians age 65 and older were still working
In 2009, there were approximately 68,100 active physicians working in
Canada, one-tenth (12%) of whom were 65 and older, up from 9% in 2004.
In 2007, more than 7% of physicians age 55 and older, and close to 12%
of those age 65 and older, became minimally active; that is, they
worked 33% or less of their previous workload.
The older general practitioners became, the less likely they were to
engage in such activities as hospital inpatient care, obstetrics,
anesthesia and services requiring advanced procedural skills.
In 2007, while just more than 3% of surveyed physicians reported that
they planned to retire in each of the two years following the survey,
the estimated average annual retirement rate was actually well under 1%
The report and the following figures and tables are available from
CIHI's website, at www.cihi.ca.
Supply of Physicians, by Age Group, 2004 to 2009 (Scott's Medical
Percentage of Family Physicians/General Practitioners and Specialists
Planning to Retire From Clinical Practice in the Next Two Years, by Age
Group, Canada, 2007 (Figure 4 in the report)
Percentage of Physicians Retiring in 2005, 2006 and 2007, by Age Group
and Sex, Canada (Figure 8 in the report)
Number of Older Physicians Who Were Minimally Active by Specialty and
Full-Time Equivalent Threshold, Canada, 2007 (Table 1 in the report)
SOURCE CANADIAN INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH INFORMATION
For further information: