The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has started to push the provincial government to invest in and nurture the medical industry after a years-long struggle, including that felt in northwestern Alberta.
According to the AMA, more than 50 practitioners operate in Grande Prairie, across 24 practices, and AMA President Dr. Paul Parks says the first step to stabilizing the medical industry in the north is incentivizing doctors to train and stay in communities this size.
“The first struggle is getting on the radar, getting on the map, and increasing training,” he says.
Parks adds that rural communities across Alberta have made continued efforts to develop creative ways to encourage physicians and family doctors to lay down roots in smaller communities. He says solutions including affordable operating space and overhead assistance for practices have proven to be effective for smaller communities but, without support from the provincial government, municipalities simply can’t keep up.
“Things have changed, in the past municipalities wouldn’t really get involved in healthcare and definitely wouldn’t get involved in operations of healthcare.”
“We really have to work on stabilizing the practices we have in these smaller communities, and then really invest strategically that will encourage physicians to go set up full family medicine type practices in the smaller communities.”
According to the AMA, there is “strong interest” in increasing training for medical students and residents in northern Alberta, centered out of Grande Prairie Regional Hospital. Parks says the process may take up to seven years, but completion will provide a long-term solution for the Peace Country.
“That will be a massive bonus for recruitment for people coming here and seeing what it would be like to stay and plant roots where they’re training.”
“If we can do more strategic investing where physicians can build strong teams around them and have more colleagues and specialty consultants who support their care, then that becomes a snowball where it really helps move forward on recruitment and retention.”
Currently, the AMA is pushing the Government of Alberta to commit to a stabilization investment for medical practices by the upcoming 2024 budget with hopes of having a concrete commitment from the Province as early as February.