A new report called Physicians in Manitoba has revealed a deep shortage of doctors in the province, with projections suggesting the shortage will get worse in the short and medium term if nothing changes. 

The Physicians in Manitoba report draws on the most recent statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Doctors Manitoba annual physician survey. Findings include:

  • Manitoba has seen a 46% increase in the number of practicing physicians over the last 20 years.
  • On a per capita basis, however, the increase was only 19% over the last two decades. This is much lower than the average Canadian increase of 29%, and is the smallest increase of any province. 
  • Today, Manitoba has the lowest number of family physicians per capita in Canada, and third lowest number of specialists per capita. 
  • Rural and Northern regions in Manitoba have below-average physician resources compared to peer regions across Canada. 

Manitoba has seen a significant increase in the number of practicing physicians over the past 20 years, but our increase has not kept up with other provinces leaving us with one of the biggest physician shortages in Canada,” said Dr. Candace Bradshaw, President of Doctors Manitoba. For patients, the physician shortage is leading to unreasonably long wait times, unnecessary delays for surgery and testing, and it’s making it difficult to find and see a family physician.” 

The report also looks at current issues in the medical profession, and projects how the physician shortage could deteriorate further without an intervention:

  • Over the last four years, the number of physicians retiring each year has more than doubled.
  • Two thirds of physicians are experiencing distress and half are experiencing high levels of burnout.
  • In the next three years, 43% of physicians are planning on retiring, leaving Manitoba, or reducing their clinical hours. 

The report estimates Manitoba would need 359 more physicians to meet the Canadian per capita average, though it should be noted that Canada’s average is far lower than most OECD nations. Achieving even the Canadian average would be a major challenge because an estimated 348 physicians are considering retirement in the next three years, with hundreds more planning on leaving Manitoba or reducing their clinical hours. 

Physician burnout is the biggest threat to physician retention,” said Dr. Shelley Anderson, Medical Lead for Physician Health with Doctors Manitoba. The root causes of burnout are largely system issues, not due to a lack of resilience on the part of individual physicians. These issues include a growing administrative burden, a lack of engagement with physicians, and an erosion of control for the patient care for which physicians are ultimately responsible. By working together with physicians to tackle these issues, we can reduce burnout and improve physician retention.”

Doctors Manitoba has projects underway to address burnout in three of the five health regions. In partnership with the local regional health authority, collaborative teams of physicians and RHA decision-makers are developing action plans to reduce physician burnout. The participating RHAs include Prairie Mountain Health, Northern Health Region and Interlake Eastern Regional Health Authority. The actions plans will be published later this year. 

A full copy of the Physicians in Manitoba report is available here.

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