Number of doctors in Canada is rising, but average payments remain steady

September 9, 2014—For the first time in almost 15 years, the amount paid to physicians in Canada appears to have flattened out, even though there are more physicians in the workforce than ever. According to the latest annual report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), there were more than 77,000 physicians in the country last year—an all-time high and a 3.4% increase over 2012. The number of physicians per population (220 per 100,000) was also the highest ever recorded.

Meanwhile, the total amount paid to physicians in Canada grew at its slowest pace in 15 years.

Physicians in Canada 2013 takes a comprehensive look at how the physician workforce is changing and how payments for services are shifting.

Payments levelling off

In 2012–2013, total government payments to physicians in Canada for their clinical services reached $22.8 billion—an increase of 3.5% over the previous year, the lowest growth rate in more than a decade. The growth in average gross payment per physician appears to be levelling off as well; the average amount was around $328,000, virtually the same as in the previous year. The average cost per service was $58, which was also about the same as the year before.

According to Geoff Ballinger, CIHI’s manager of physician information, the lower growth in payments for physician services is a “subtle but significant shift” that reflects the recent slower growth in overall health care spending.

Demographics reflect changing workforce

Based solely on how many MD degrees are being awarded by Canadian medical schools, the physician workforce is expected to continue to grow for the next several years. A significant complementary finding from the report, according to Ballinger, is the enduring contribution of internationally educated medical graduates to the growth of Canada’s supply of doctors. “Our data shows that more than a quarter of physicians who entered the workforce in 2013 received their medical training outside of Canada,” he says. “These include Canadians seeking their medical education in other countries.”

CIHI’s report also shows that there are more women in Canada’s physician workforce than ever before, continuing a trend. In 2013, more than a third of Canada’s physicians were women. The highest proportion of women physicians (43.1%) was found in family medicine.