April 3, 2024

Provincial government bolsters post-secondary funding to help address rural health doctor shortage

UCalgary and ULethbridge partner to create new physician training program
UCalgary President Ed McCauley speaks at the University of Lethbridge, alongside U of L President Digvir Jayas and Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney.
UCalgary President Ed McCauley speaks alongside ULethbridge President Digvir Jayas and Minister Rajan Sawhney. Michael Platt, Advancement

UCalgary’s partnership with the University of Lethbridge to help remedy a shortage of rural doctors was in the spotlight Wednesday, as the provincial government showcased plans to bolster physician training across Alberta.

Part of the government’s $224.8-million for Rural Medical Education Training Centres is aimed at increasing the number of physicians outside of Alberta’s major cities, the $43-million Rural Medical Teaching School at U of L will operate under a UCalgary curriculum, while granting UCalgary degrees.

“We’re excited about this important program expansion between the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge, which will open more doors of opportunity to attract, educate and retain the health workforce that is greatly needed in rural areas,” said Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary. “The collective efforts of this post-secondary network will help to deliver quality health care and continuity of care across our province for years to come.”

Addresses province-wide shortage of rural doctors

The press conference at ULethbridge saw Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney speaking to a province-wide shortage in physicians outside of big cities, and a solution centered on training rural students known to be more likely to work in rural communities.

“Albertans deserve access to timely medical care in every corner of our province. The new training centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie are the first of many steps to solve the rural physician shortage,” said Sawhney. “Advanced Education is committed to increasing support for Alberta’s medical schools, along with significant support to encouraging more physicians to live and practice in rural settings.”

Under the province’s plan, the University of Alberta, UCalgary, ULethbridge, and Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) will work together to develop new Rural Medical Education Training Centres (RMETCs) in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

“We at the University of Calgary are excited about working collaboratively with our colleagues across the province, particularly at ULethbridge to provide innovative educational solutions for health workforce shortages in the rural areas and Indigenous communities,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine. “If we train residents rurally they are more likely to stay in smaller centres where the need is acute.”

Undergrad medical education and hands-on learning

While UCalgary is partnering with ULethbridge, UAlberta will partner with NWP  to develop a new training centre in Grande Prairie. Officials from all for schools attended the press conference.

Both training centres will deliver an entire undergraduate medical education program and deliver hands-on learning experiences in rural communities surrounding the training centres. Students will train alongside other health professionals, gaining practical medical experience while serving rural patients.

The government says once up and running, the training centres will provide much-needed primary care in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, with each general practitioner in the teaching clinic caring for approximately 1,200 patients. The clinics will also operate after regular hours to reduce congestion in local emergency departments.

Of the total funding, $43.2 million in capital funding will be provided for the new training centre in Lethbridge, $55.6 million will support operating expenses for the training centres in both Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, and an additional $126 million will support the overall physician training expansion.

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