More doctors, higher spending: Data sheds light on trends in the physician workforce

Printer-friendly version

September 29, 2015 — Total payments to physicians jumped almost 6% in 2014, to a total of $24.1 billion, according to new numbers released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). The increase comes just 1 year after the lowest annual increase in almost 15 years.

Numbers published today in CIHI’s report Physicians in Canada, 2014 show that the number of doctors has been steadily increasing over the last decade, reaching almost 80,000 in 2014. In addition, gross payments to physicians continued to rise, with physicians earning an average of $336,000 in 2013–2014, an increase of 2.4% from the previous year. The annual average payment per physician ranged from $263,000 in Nova Scotia to $368,000 in Ontario.

“Over the last 8 years, the physician workforce has grown rapidly, similar to the high growth rates we saw through most of the 1980s,” said Geoff Ballinger, CIHI’s manager of Physician Information. “Furthermore, current levels of medical school enrolment across Canada suggest that this trend is likely to continue for the next few years.”

The national trend masks some regional differences. For example, the number of doctors in Alberta and Saskatchewan has increased by 20% in the last 5 years, the highest among the provinces. During the same period, British Columbia, Quebec and Prince Edward Island had the lowest increases of between 10% and 11%.

In 2014, the overall physician-to-population ratio reached 224 physicians per 100,000 population. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec recorded the highest per-population rates of 260, 248 and 239 physicians, respectively.

Other facts and figures

  • More doctors are graduating in Canada than ever before.
    • Over the last 10 years, the number of MD degrees awarded by Canadian universities has increased 60% (from 1,757 to 2,804). As a result, it is likely that the number of physicians will continue to grow.
    • During this period, females consistently made up more than half of new MD graduates (between 53% and 60%).
  • The number of female physicians is growing rapidly.
    • In 2014, 40% of Canadian doctors were women.
    • The proportion was particularly high in family medicine, where women represented 44% of the workforce. 34% of specialists were women.
    • Women represented the majority of young physicians in Canada, making up more than half of the workforce younger than 40. That proportion was highest in Quebec, where 63% of physicians younger than 40 were women.
  • After more than a decade of significant growth, the proportion of total payments made to physicians through alternative payment plans (APPs) instead of fee for service (FFS) appears to have stabilized.
    • FFS payments are based on the number of services provided by a physician. APPs allow physicians to practise differently and focus less on providing a higher number of services.
    • In 2013–2014, 28% of payments to physicians were received through APPs and 71% through FFS, which remained virtually unchanged since 2009.

About CIHI

CIHI collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable health information. CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness about the factors that contribute to good health and health care.

Use CIHI's accessibility request form to request CIHI documentation in an accessible format.