Insights

April 15, 2024

Weekly EconMinute—Number of Physicians Per Capita Across Canada

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about the number of physicians per capita across Canada.

A few weeks ago, we discussed the number of physicians in Alberta as a share of the population, looking at the breakdown between family doctors and specialists. Now, we wanted to see how Alberta compares to the national average and other large provinces.

Before we dig into the numbers, an important caveat: provincial averages don’t capture where the doctors are. Over 90% of doctors are in urban areas, meaning that even if a province has a lot of physicians per capita, patients in rural areas may still struggle to find or see a doctor.

Here’s what we found:

  • Per 100,000 residents, there are now nearly twice as many doctors in Alberta and across Canada compared to 50 years ago. From 1971 to 2022, Canada’s number of physicians (per 100,000) has grown from 125 to 247, while Alberta’s has grown from 123 to 244.
  • Historically, the number of physicians in Alberta (per 100,000) lagged noticeably behind other large provinces. However, that started to change in the early 2000s. At its 2019 peak, Alberta had more physicians per capita than any other large province and the third most of any province, behind only Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador.
  • Since 2019, the number of doctors practicing in Alberta has begun to decline. As a result, for the first time since 2005, Alberta now has fewer doctors per capita than the national average—by 3 doctors per 100,000.
  • Alberta and Ontario (as well as Manitoba) are the only provinces where the number of physicians per 100,000 is below 2019 levels. However, the decline in Alberta is far steeper than in those other provinces.

It’s unclear why, exactly, the number of physicians in Alberta is declining, especially after rising strongly for 20 years. Wages and the financial viability of family practices are one possible factor; 6 in 10 family doctors are considering leaving the provincial system.

While beyond the scope of this summary analysis, one interesting finding is that there is not necessarily a direct link between the number of available doctors and patient wait times. Ontario has the fewest doctors per capita of any major province and is below the national average, yet has the shortest average wait times of all the provinces. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia has the longest wait times in the country, despite having the most doctors.

Have an indicator you want us to look into? Email us at media@businesscouncilab.com.

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