People waving signs in support of family doctors greeted commuters to Maple Ridge Thursday morning.
About 20 supporters took part in the event put on by the Division of Family Practice called Honk for your Doc in honour of BC Family Doctor Day on May 19.
The group stood on the south east corner of Maple Meadows Way and Lougheed Highway, on the western border of Maple Ridge, between 7:30-8:30 a.m. trying to elicit honks from drivers.
The event was held amid reports of a family physician shortage across Canada.
Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, issued a statement on May 9, saying the lack of access to family doctors in the country is a “growing crisis” – and calling on governments to partner with family doctors to find solutions.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2019 approximately 4.6 million Canadians did not have regular access to a primary care provider.
In addition, Smart reported that in December 2021, some 2,400 family physician positions were advertised on government recruitment websites across Canada. In 2020, however, just over 1,400 family physicians exited the postgraduate training system to enter practice.
“This trend isn’t new: in the six-year period between 2015 and 2021, the percentage of medical graduates choosing family medicine fell from 38.5 per cent to 31.8 per cent. Meanwhile, the average age of today’s family doctors is 49 years,” said Smart.
The communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, however, are bucking the trend.
Currently there are eight doctors seeking patients, according to the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice, an exceptional amount given about 900,000 people across the province do not have a family doctor.
There are 72 family doctors in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 15 recruited in the past three years.
The division attributes part of their success in recruiting family doctors to the fact that they provide everything that prospect physicians need to help them decide if the community is the right fit and they also provide wrap-around supports to ease their transition if they do decide to work in this community.
B.C. Premier John Horgan recently met with representatives from Doctors of B.C., calling the meeting constructive.
“The number of British Columbians without access to an in-person family physician is a real problem. They are left waiting hours for medical attention that, for many, could have been addressed with a visit to a family doctor,” said the premier.
“While this is a problem across Canada, it is very acute here in B.C. I’ve heard from physicians throughout the province that they are both overworked and frustrated by the pressures they are under, which are compounded by the ongoing consequences of the pandemic,” added Horgan.
Even though, Horgan noted, the problem has been taking place for some time, he said going forward the provincial government is committed to working closely with Doctors of BC on solutions.
In 2003, he elaborated, there were 437,000 people without a primary care practitioner and by 2017 the number doubles to 897,000.
“The impacts on B.C. families are clear today.”
Executive director of the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice, Treena Innes, was pleased with the turnout at the local event.
“It’s been a challenging time for family physicians but the overwhelming response we received from the dozens of passing motorists yesterday morning during our ‘honk for your doc’ event was a great reminder of how much our community values their physicians,” she said.
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