RESIDE program hopes to inspire new family physicians to work in 15 rural areas of Alberta

The Alberta government announced Monday that it will commit $6 million over three years to a program it hopes will attract and retain family doctors in rural communities.

“The program will provide financial benefits to new family physicians practicing in rural Alberta,” said Health Minister Jason Copping. “In exchange, these new family physicians will provide three years of service in a designated rural community.

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Copping said that in each of the next three years, 20 new family doctors will receive $2 million to start practicing in remote or rural areas that need it.

The top 15 communities were identified as:
Fox Creek
Large Cache
Fort Vermilion
High level
river of milk
cold lake
The deer lake
Rockies House
Fort McLeod

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Copping said new communities will be identified each year.

The RESIDE program also includes undergraduate tuition reimbursement of up to $60,000 and a remote community incentive of between $20,000 and $40,000. The amount will depend on the remoteness of the area, explained the Minister of Health.

Candidates can apply online from February 1 and applications will be accepted until the end of March.

Applicants must be family medicine residents completing their residency this year. They will be asked to choose their top 10 communities and will be matched based on the “best fit” for vacancies, Copping said.

They will begin practicing in their new community in the fall.

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Alberta announces $6 million program to increase the number of doctors in rural communities

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Copping and Dr. Gavin Parker, chair of the Rural Health Professions Action Plan board, said there is evidence that shows that once a doctor lives in a community , it is more likely to stay.

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“It’s a gateway to bring people into the community,” Parker said.

Parker worked as a doctor in rural Alberta for 15 years. He said RESIDE will play a “critical role in attracting doctors”.

“As a full-service rural doctor, I can tell you the last few years have been difficult,” he said, adding that the pandemic has definitely made things more difficult. “Coming back to the bargaining table and getting a new contract is a big priority for WADA and I think we’ve made good progress.”

Parker also said the billing codes for virtual and phone appointments were also “highly appreciated,” especially when talking to rural patients.

Copping was also asked about the province’s relationship with doctors.

“I am happy… that we have entered into interest-based negotiations with WADA.

“I look forward to the outcome and fully appreciate the need to reach an agreement and provide some certainty for doctors.”

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In recent years, mayors and other municipal officials have raised concerns about a growing shortage of family doctors in rural communities.

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In Cochrane, the problem only got worse in the last year, according to Mayor Jeff Genung.

In August 2021, he told Global News that the city’s doctor shortage was compounded by an abundance of retirees and provincial changes to their salaries.

“They were talking about changing or affecting doctors’ salaries, which may have forced some doctors to look elsewhere or move their practices,” Genung said.

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“We have had a number of retirees, these current doctors are retiring and leaving vacancies. So it really is the perfect storm.

In April 2020, the Rural Sustainability Group conducted a survey of over 300 physicians across the province. The group said 44 communities in Alberta would see changes due to the government’s recent changes to how doctors can bill for services.

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“The responses we’ve received are quite alarming,” said Dr. Samantha Myhr, who practices in Pincher Creek.

“Forty-four communities will be affected by July from our initial data – that is, doctors who have been forced to make changes or who are considering making changes after the pandemic in order to protect their ability to see patients or care for their patients. ”

Three communities – Sundre, Stettler and Lac La Biche – had already been told that some of their doctors would withdraw emergency and obstetrics services from hospitals.

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