Chair's Message - #LifeWithoutADoctor

With a provincial election looming on June 2, 2022, the Ontario College of Family Physicians launched a public advocacy campaign at the beginning of May to highlight that every Ontarian deserves a Family Doctor. The campaign has gained a lot of traction provincially, as well as nation-wide. The hashtag #LifeWithoutADoctor has been trending on social media all month.

Anecdotally, I have noticed more inquiries from friends and colleagues asking about tips to find a Family Doctor over the past few months. Most have been from people who have recently lost their Family Doctor. The estimates are that 1-in-5 Family Doctors may retire in the next 5 years. The stats are grim:

  • 1.39 million Ontarians say they do not have a Family Doctor
  • Canada ranks 23rd out of 32 OECD countries in doctor to population ratio with 2.78 doctors for every 1000 people
  • Ontario has one of the lowest provincial ratios with only 2.32 doctors for every 1000 people
  • According to a 2021 CFPC survey, the rate of burnout among Family Doctors is 3x higher than in 2020
  • Over the past several years, the number of Ontario Medical School graduates choosing Family Medicine residency has declined

Locally, an estimated almost 60, 000 patients in London-Middlesex do not have a Family Doctor. Approximately half of those patients are actively seeking care (have used their health card in the past 2 years) and most certainly could benefit from a family doctor immediately.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the issue of #LifeWithoutADoctor as physician retirements have increased at a time when patient care needs are rising. There is increased need for patients to access their family doctors to get caught up on cancer and other recommended screening tests. Patients need to access their family doctor to assist managing conditions while they remain on extended wait lists for appointments and procedures with specialists.

Despite the current situation, I do believe there is hope. The attention, both provincially and nationally, being brought to the importance of Family Medicine as the cornerstone of high performing health system is being highlighted. Advocacy to increase the number of patients who have access to team-based care, and for family doctors to be able to practice in team-based models is occurring. Patients are speaking up about the importance of having a trusted family doctor providing their care. Locally, hospitals like London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Healthcare London have started to engage family doctors trying to make improvements to how we work together. Ontario Health Teams are being purposeful to include family doctors within their leadership. The Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry has committed to delivering a more generalist-based curriculum and has been successful in it’s launch of the Longitudinal Clinical Experience for 1st and 2nd year students to gain early and repeated exposure to life as a family doctor. This year, for the first time in many years, more than 50% of the graduating class from Western’s medical school matched to Family Medicine residency positions.

The road ahead for patients and family doctors won’t be easy, but there are some glimmers of hope. Thank you to all the Family Doctor faculty who, despite the challenges of working through a pandemic, continue to teach, mentor, and guide the family doctors of tomorrow through their journey. Opportunities to advocate during an election campaign only come up every 4 years, but the work you do every day is a far greater contribution to prevent patients from living #LifeWithoutADoctor.

To read more about this issue:
Critical family physician shortage must be addressed: CMA
Family doctor shortage in Canada: CFPC
Life Without a Doctor: OCFP