Physician supply still growing faster than Canadian population

Proportion of doctors practising
in rural areas increasing steadily

OTTAWA, November 15, 2012 /Canada NewsWire/ - Over the past five years, physician supply has increased three times faster than the Canadian population—an increase reminiscent of those seen in the 1980s. According to a new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the number of physicians rose to more than 72,500 in 2011, representing an increase of 4.1% over 2010.

The 2011 edition of CIHI's annual report Supply, Distribution and Migration of Canadian Physicians shows that, from 2007 to 2011, the number of physicians increased 14%. In comparison, the Canadian population grew only 4.7% over the same time period.

The rise in physician numbers was also seen in each province. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec demonstrated the highest physician-to-population ratios in the country, with 240, 231 and 231 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively. Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island had lower ratios at 181 and 178 physicians per 100,000, but these were still increases from previous years.

Despite the overall growth in the number of doctors, the split between general practitioners (GPs) and medical/surgical specialists has remained relatively stable over the last five years. In 2011, 51% of all Canada's doctors practised family medicine while 49% were medical and surgical specialists.

The overall number of doctors graduating from Canadian universities is also rising steadily across all areas of practice. In 2011, more than 2,500 physicians graduated from Canadian universities; this represents an increase of 4% from 2010. At the same time, the number of internationally trained Canadian physicians is also rising.

"Today, we have more physicians than ever before. With the steady influx of new graduates and the rise in internationally trained doctors, this upward trend will continue over the next few years," says Jean-Marie Berthelot, Vice President of Programs at CIHI. "However, while numbers are increasing, they don't tell the whole story. Better understanding of the organization of care, patient needs and physician workload will help determine whether or not increased physician numbers are translating into improved access to health care for all Canadians."

More doctors in rural areas than five years ago

As with the rest of the country, rural areas experienced a rise in physician numbers that outpaced population growth. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of physicians in rural areas increased by almost 10%. In comparison, the rural population grew by only about 2% between 2007 and 2011.

CIHI's study found that approximately 15% of GPs work in rural areas, providing care to the 18% of Canadians who live there.

"The encouraging news is that the gap between the number of urban and rural family physicians is decreasing," says Geoff Ballinger, Manager, Health Human Resources A at CIHI. "Many regions have implemented programs to persuade new graduates to work in rural areas. These initiatives encourage doctors to practise in communities where physician access would otherwise be difficult."

Women make up more than one-third of Canada's physician workforce

The demographic makeup of the workforce is also changing. In 2011, more than 36% of Canada's physicians were women. This represents an increase of 23% from 2007. In comparison, over the same time period, the number of male doctors increased by only 9%.

At a provincial level, Quebec and New Brunswick had the highest percentages of female physicians (42% and 36%) in 2011; Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the lowest (28%, 32% and 32%). Across jurisdictions, the average age of physicians ranged from 48.0 to 51.8.

The report is available from CIHI's website, at