British Columbia announced several new measures to bring more doctors to the province, amid an ongoing shortage of physicians and strained emergency departments.
Premier David Eby says the province is tripling the number of seats in the Practice Ready Assessment program, going from 32 spots to 96 by March 2024.
The program allows internationally-educated family doctors to become licensed to work in B.C, placing them in rural and urban communities who need more physicians and requiring they work that placement for at least three years.
Eby says the pandemic has exposed challenges and added further strains in the health-care system, with too many British Columbians struggling to find a family doctor.
Some, he said, are proposing to respond to that stress by undercutting the principles of universal public health care and promoting an approach that would allow the wealthiest to buy their way to the front of the line. He insisted the public system is the only way forward, calling it one of Canada’s greatest achievements.
“We can’t privatize our way to a better health-care system and we can’t cut supports and get more doctors,” Eby said.
In another change, Eby says international medical graduates who are not eligible to be fully or provisionally licensed in B.C. may now be eligible for a new “associate physician” class of registration with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.
Associate physicians can care for patients under the direction and supervision of an attending physician within a health authority acute-care setting.
Eby said the regulatory college is also preparing bylaw changes to allow doctors trained in the United States for three years to practise in community settings in B.C., including urgent and primary care centres, community clinics and family practices.
The bylaw changes are expected to be implemented in the coming weeks, with the aim of allowing those doctors to practise in B.C. communities by January.
Team approach making a difference: Health Minister
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the tripling of seats in the Practice Ready program alongside the other measures represent “fundamental changes” that will make a difference in the lives of those seeking primary care in B.C.
Dix said there were about 300,000 people in the province without a family doctor in 2003, a number that climbed steadily to over 900,000 when he became minister in 2017. It’s now estimated there are 1 million British Columbians in that situation.
Dix claims that measures introduced in 2018 and 2019 are starting to address the shortfall, and physicians, on average in B.C., are caring for up to 1200 patients each.
Dix says the province is taking more of a team approach to health care, has doubled the amount of nurse practitioners — who work with doctors — and is now adding associate physicians.
“Which can mean counselors, it can mean allied health workers, dietitians, nurses, and of course doctors,” he said, adding that B.C. has added a net total of 38,000 health care workers in the five years since he took office.
“That’s pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got to do it again … in the five years coming up, and in the five years after that.”
Dix says these measures are the latest steps to improve health care in the province, following the 75 actions announced as part of B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy in September.