Family doctors are in high demand and low supply across the province, and for those wanting a female family doctor in Edmonton, there may be a wait.
As of mid-October, there were more than 800 female family physicians in Edmonton, according to data from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta.
But Alberta’s Primary Care Networks’ Find a Doctor online database reveals that only three female family physicians in the city are accepting new patients as of Wednesday.
Dr. Katherine Kasha, a family physician, served as president of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association until the end of October.
In an interview, Kasha said the situation is pretty desperate for anyone wanting to find a family doctor, let alone a female physician.
Family physicians often find themselves bogged down by bureaucracy in managing paperwork and clinics as small businesses, Kasha said.
The association has also met with Health Minister Adriana LaGrange to sign a memorandum of understanding near the end of October to address revamping the current fee-for-service model.
“To actually have a viable practice is a real challenge because the amount that we pay has gone up, and we cannot increase what we make unless we see more people,” Kasha said.
“And of course, the specific challenges that female physicians have is often we have families.”
Dr. Anthea Rajakone, a family doctor who has been in the city for almost a year, said she gets asked daily if she has room for more patients.
“It’s heartbreaking to say ‘No,’ you go home and feel terribly guilty,” Rajakone said.
She said it can be a matter of comfort for people who seek a female doctor due to cultural or religious reasons.
“There’s a comfort and familiarity, I think … Just like someone who speaks the same language or is part of the same ethnicity or culture,” Rajakone said.
Having doctors with different life experiences
Data from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in 2018 found female physicians usually spend about 10 per cent longer with patients and communicate more effectively, resulting in six per cent fewer visits per patient.
The association notes by 2030, women are expected to make up half of all physicians in Canada.
“Yet many women in medicine continue to face challenges including pay and leadership inequality, sexual assault and harassment, opposition to career advancement, gendered stereotypes, unfair role expectations, and unconscious bias,” its website states.
A survey conducted by the CMA found 77 per cent of female doctors experienced gender inequity in their training or practice setting, and 99 per cent reported that the inequity had a negative effect on their sense of wellness.
The responses were gathered from female physicians and medical students at the 2020 Canadian Women in Medicine Conference.
WATCH | Edmonton family physician talks about the challenges facing female doctors
The association said having an equitable and diverse medical population delivers better patient care and a more responsive, adaptable health-care system by contributing different points of view and providing underserved populations with better access to medical services.
In a statement to CBC sent in September, Scott Johnston, acting press secretary for the province’s health ministry, noted that female physicians make up about 41 per cent of all physicians and 45 per cent of family physicians in Alberta. He said the government is working to strengthen health care, including $243 million in new funding over three years to strengthen the primary care system.
Medical school and family medicine
Dr. Michelle Morros is a family doctor in Edmonton and residency program director in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta. She said fewer physicians are interested in becoming family doctors.
“Nationally, there are 17 medical schools that have family medicine residency programmes. There has been a year-over-year decline in medical students choosing family medicine as their specialty,” Morros said.
This year, 33 per cent of medical students chose to specialize in family medicine according to Morros.
“The belief is that, in order to have a robust primary care foundation for our system, you need about 50 per cent of medical students to pick family medicine,” Morros said.
“So there’s a lot of work to be done.”