December 15, 2011—Between 2009 and 2010, growth in the supply of physicians was more than double that of the Canadian population, according to a new report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). While the physician population increased by 2.3%, a somewhat lower increase than the previous year, the Canadian population as a whole grew only 1.1%. In 2010, there were approximately 69,700 active physicians working in Canada—the greatest number of active physicians there has ever been in this country.
The 2010 edition of CIHI’s annual report Supply, Distribution and Migration of Canadian Physicians shows that over the past five years, the growth in the number of physicians in Canada has consistently outpaced population growth. In 1980, there were 151 active physicians per 100,000 Canadians; in 2006, there were 190; and in 2010, there were 203. Over the past five years, the number of physicians and the physician-to-population ratio increased in all provinces and territories except Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
”Although continued investments across Canada to train and retain more doctors means we now have more physicians than ever, it’s important to remember that numbers alone do not tell the whole story,” says Michael Hunt, CIHI’s Director of Pharmaceuticals and Health Workforce Information Services. “The demand for physician services depends on a number of factors, including the health care needs of Canadians, the way care is organized, the number of hours doctors are working and the scope of practice of other health professionals.”
CIHI’s report also shows a significant increase in the number of medical graduates, both from Canadian universities and abroad. In 2010, Canadian faculties of medicine awarded a record number of medical degrees (2,448), an increase of 30% over 2005 and 55% over 2000. With continued growth in the number of training seats, it is expected that this upward trend in the supply of physicians will continue in the coming years. The number of international medical graduates practising in Canada also grew significantly. In the past five years, the number of international medical graduates increased by 18.0% (versus 9.5% for the number of Canadian-trained physicians), adding more than 2,500 physicians to the Canadian supply.
As the number of doctors increases, so do total clinical payments to physicians in Canada. Clinical payments reached close to $19 billion in 2009–2010. The average pay per physician is also increasing: between 2005 and 2010, average payments to doctors increased by 21.5%, or about 4% a year on average. In 2010, the average gross fee-for-service income for a family physician was $239,000, while for a specialist it was $341,000. (Only physicians who earned at least $60,000 in fee-for-service payments are included in this calculation. Fee-for service payments represent about 75% of total payments to physicians in Canada. Gross income covers doctors’ salaries and overhead such as office expenses, staff salaries and other practice costs.)
“Expenditures for physicians’ services continue to represent the fastest-growing category of health spending,” says Geoff Ballinger, CIHI’s Manager of Health Human Resources. “Although part of this growth is related to the large number of new physicians Canada has trained and gained over the past decade, part is also due to increases in physicians’ average earnings.”
Fewer physicians are migrating within and outside of Canada. For example, there was 20% overall less movement of doctors over provincial and territorial borders in 2010 than in 2006.
As for the national border, physician migration out of Canada decreased by 16% between 2006 and 2010. In total, 202 physicians returned to Canada in 2010, and 173 left for another country.
Established in 1994, CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that provides essential information on Canada’s health system and the health of Canadians. Funded by federal, provincial and territorial governments, CIHI is guided by a Board of Directors made up of health leaders across the country. Our vision is to improve Canada’s health system and the well-being of Canadians by being a leading source of unbiased, credible and comparable information that will enable health leaders to make better-informed decisions.