Dr. Amy Tan, who is leaving Alberta and taking a new job in Victoria, B.C., in November, poses for a photo in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Dr. Amy Tan, who is leaving Alberta and taking a new job in Victoria, B.C., in November, poses for a photo in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Feeling powerless:’ Two family doctors explain why they’re leaving Alberta

Alberta College of Family Physicians said it’s hearing doctors are weighing their options

Dr. Amy Tan has worked as a family physician in Alberta for 16 years.

Tan, who practices at a teaching clinic and provides palliative care in Calgary, had planned to keep working in the province for many more — at least until her 11-year old son finished high school.

But she said her plans changed in the spring when a prolonged and bitter dispute began between the United Conservative government and the province’s doctors.

Tan, also an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, is taking a new job in Victoria on Nov. 15.

“I’m very grateful I have the choice, when I know a lot of my colleagues and other Albertans don’t,” Tan said in a phone interview from Calgary.

“The truth of the matter is I wouldn’t have pursued other opportunities had it not been for what’s going on.”

Tan said she loves her work in Calgary, but it couldn’t buffer her from the political fight — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dispute started in February when Health Minister Tyler Shandro tore up a master pay agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.

Total physician compensation remains flat at $5.4 billion in the government’s 2020-21 budget, but a new funding framework changes how doctors are paid.

Doctors have said it will force hundreds of clinics across the province, particularly in rural areas, to reduce staff or close.

Some changes were reversed during the pandemic, but a July survey by the medical association showed at least 40 per cent of physicians have considered moving out of the province.

Shandro has called it questionable that doctors would leave for other provinces, where they would earn less money. His press secretary, Steve Buick, added this week that he doesn’t believe the “rhetoric” that doctors are leaving.

“There is no trend of overall losses of doctors,” Buick said.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta said it does its annual registration at the end of December, so it doesn’t have current statistics. Buick said Alberta Health has access to the college’s quarterly figures, which he said show the number of doctors working in Alberta hasn’t changed.

“Hundreds come and go every year,” he said. “Overall, we’ve had net gains.”

In 2019-20, he said, 382 doctors left Alberta and 644 started — for a net gain of 262. The latest data through June shows the same trend of net increases, said Buick.

He also provided an Alberta Health Services risk assessment from Sept. 25 that showed 80 rural doctors had provided a notice of intent to leave, but said only 12 of them have given formal notice.

“We do not expect shortages overall or in any specific community, apart from the normal staffing challenges in smaller centres,” Buick said.

Still, the Alberta College of Family Physicians said it’s hearing from an increasing number of doctors who are weighing their options.

“Physicians don’t feel like they are a valued part of the team,” said executive director Terri Potter. “They’ve been told publicly that they are greedy.

“Physicians are just feeling powerless.”

The advocacy organization, which represents about 5,200 family doctors, has started an online campaign to showcase the importance and value of their role.

Potter said some doctors have taken steps to get licences in other provinces and others have decided to retire two or three years early.

“There will be a lot of movement,” said Potter, who noted many who are leaving did their medical training in Alberta. “I really worry there will be a bit of brain drain.”

Dr. Cian Hackett, a family physician, moved to Sylvan Lake, and started working in Rimbey two years ago after graduating from the University of Alberta. He said he planned to stay in central Alberta until retirement.

“When the government changes started coming out, my wife and I talked about would we consider moving to a different province,” he said. “We decided for the time being to split our time between Alberta and Ontario.”

Hackett said he and his wife, who’s a nurse, plan to move to Ontario after the pandemic ends.

“We don’t see an Alberta that matches our values — one that values public health care and education, vulnerable populations,” he said. “We’ve stopped seeing it as a place with an economic or moral future when we think of raising a family.”

Hackett said he’s not only concerned about the lack of stability for his practice without a master agreement, but also the government’s moves to reduce supervised drug consumption sites and review eligibility criteria for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.

“There’s no shortage of job opportunities — all of which pay well,” he said. “The government wants to make it about physician pay.

“At a certain point, it becomes about other things.”

Tan, who also did her training in Alberta, said the pandemic has been stressful enough for doctors and attacks from the government have made it worse.

“I only had so much fight in me left and I needed my bandwidth back to actually do the work, to contribute to society in the way I want to.”

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Most Read