Toronto doctor shortage leaves millions without primary care

From Bloomberg News

Zunera Hashmi, a Toronto resident, has been anxiously waiting in line for three years to be assigned a family doctor. When she gets stressed, the 28-year-old marketing professional calls the provincial help line but hears the same message: “Wait just a bit longer.” She emails them occasionally but gets no reply.

Over 2.2 million like Hashmi don’t have a regular family physician in the province of Ontario, according to data from health-care researcher Inspire Primary Health Care, up from 1.8 million two years ago. The shortages are dire in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city and its financial capital. One in five Ontarians, most of them Toronto dwellers, could be without a family doctor in the next three years, according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP), which represents 15,000 family doctors in the region.

“We have a full-blown health-care crisis on our hands,” said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, president of the OCFP, which is raising an alarm. Canada’s population saw record growth in 2022, spurred in large part by an immigration-friendly policy. Older physicians are retiring but fewer medical students are choosing family medicine. And Toronto’s aging population faces ever-more medical issues.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Kumanan said.

In 2021, a survey by the hospital network Unity Health Toronto found that one in five Toronto family physicians are considering closing their practice in the next five years.

“The pandemic caused health-care professionals around the world to rethink work,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, the Fidani Chair of Improvement and Innovation at the University of Toronto. “It’s particularly challenging for those in family medicine where doctors aren’t as respected as specialists.” 

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