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Doctor retirements leave patients scrambling

By Sara Norman

A wave of doctors will hit retirement age in the next decade in B.C. (FOTOLIA)

A wave of doctors will hit retirement age in the next decade in B.C. (FOTOLIA)

People in B.C. are scrambling to find a family doctor as general practitioners retire with nobody to take over their practice. More than 40% of all family doctors in Canada are over the age of 55, says statistics from the Canadian Medical Association — and that has the BC NDP health critic concerned.

Judy Darcy says there’s some statistics showing more than 225,000 people across B.C. don’t have a family doctor. She isn’t sure how many of those patients have been forced to find a new GP because their physician retired, or how many family doctors plan to stop practicing medicine in the years to come.

Dr. Heidi Oetter with the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons says their organization doesn’t track the number of doctors who have or will retire, but the era of single-family doctors seems to be coming to an end.

“Newer doctors are setting up practices in group clinics,” says Oetter, who attributes this to walk-in and multi-doctor offices being less expensive to run while allowing doctors to share patient loads and responsibilities.

Clinics aren’t a viable replacement for family doctors, according to Darcy. She points to studies showing patients who use walk-ins lack continuity of care and don’t have as positive health outcomes as their counterparts.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health says they understand the challenges and have set up several programs, including the website

“GP for Me recognizes that patients have an important role to play as partners in their health care,” the Ministry of Health responded in an email statement, adding their investments have increased capacity to the University of B.C. medical school, and they are working with local doctors to increase practice capacity.

More spots at medical schools might not be the answer, according to Oetter. “Having good health human resource strategy and planning is important,” she said. “It’s an issue that we’ve raised with both the government and health authorities. It’s important that we’re training the right mix of doctors.”

She warns specialist physicians graduating from medical school are actually having difficulty finding work.



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