Study shows growing number of new specialist physicians can't find jobs in Canada

Issue highlights need for national health care workforce planning

OTTAWA, Oct. 10, 2013 /CNW/ - A groundbreaking study by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada shows an increasing number of newly certified specialist physicians and surgeons in Canada cannot find jobs relevant to their skills and extensive training, despite the country's lengthy patient wait times for surgery and medical specialist appointments.

"After many years of hearing about physician shortages, pockets of evidence have emerged in recent years indicating a growing segment of medical specialists and subspecialists can't find jobs," said Danielle Fréchette, the study's Lead Investigator and the Royal College's Executive Director, Office of Health Policy, External Relations and Communications. "We decided this serious situation warranted a much closer examination to determine the scope of the issue and the underlying causes."

The two-year national study, titled Too many, too few doctors? What's really behind Canada's unemployed specialists?, consisted of 50 in-depth interviews with physicians, hospital leaders, health system experts, residents and others, as well as an online survey of newly certified specialist physicians in 2011 and 2012.

Of the 4,233 new specialists and subspecialists who were certified in Canada during 2011 and 2012, 1,371 (32.4%) responded to the survey. A total of 208 respondents (16%) indicated that, after spending at least eight years training to be medical specialists, they were unable to secure employment. Of those, nine per cent were able to secure additional training, such as through paid fellowship positions, but seven per cent reported that they remained unemployed.

Another 414 respondents (31.2%) indicated they chose not to enter the job market, opting to pursue further training because they believed it would make them more employable.

The study also indicated employment challenges appeared to increase in 2012 over 2011. Respondents who reported having employment issues increased by four percentage points (from 13% to 17%) for specialists from 2011 to 2012, and by six percentage points for subspecialists (from 15% to 21%).

The national study identified three often intertwined factors that contribute to new specialists not being able to find employment. The main factor is the economy, where a weakened stock market has forced many physicians to delay their retirement and hospital resources that physicians need to practice, such as operating rooms and hospital beds, have been reduced to control costs. This has directly impacted physician employment.

The evolution of the health care system was identified as a second factor, with issues such as the emergence of interprofessional models of care that rely less on physicians, and a misalignment between health workforce planning, health care delivery models and residency intake quotas.

The third factor is personal and context-specific issues, such as a lack of adequate career and job search counseling, and the fact that new medical specialists are older today than in the past and have families, often making it difficult for them to relocate.

"Much more research and consultation need to be done to ensure we understand correctly the dynamics of this new challenge," said Dr. Andrew Padmos, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal College. "Ultimately, we would like to see the creation of a national bureau or think tank that would foster research and inform pan-Canadian and cross-jurisdictional health workforce planning."

"In February, the Royal College will take another step in that direction," Padmos said, "by hosting a national summit where stakeholders from across Canada's health care system will share their workforce research, perspectives, ideas and results to help find lasting solutions to this important issue."

The full report Too many, too few doctors? What's really behind Canada's unemployed specialists? is available online at www.royalcollege.ca/physician_employment.

About the Royal College
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (http://www.royalcollege.ca) is the home of specialty care in Canada, setting the setting the standards for postgraduate medical education, supporting the continuing professional development of 44,000 members, and shaping health system innovations nationwide.

SOURCE: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

For further information:

Jean-Paul Brasseur, tel. (613) 830-4766, jp.brasseur@sympatico.ca

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