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Fewer medical students going into family medicine contributing to doctor shortage

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If you've been searching for a family doctor, you know how hard it is to find one – many people in Ontario don't have access to one.

As some family doctors are retiring and others are moving away from family medicine, there are fewer medical students to take their place.

The Ontario Medical Association is concerned about the declining number of medical students choosing family medicine and says solutions are needed before the doctor shortage gets worse.

After being with the same family doctor for more than 30 years, Gail Ouellette's physician retired late last year and she has been searching for a new one since.

"I'm trying to be proactive with my health care and I just get the door slammed in my face," she said. "I've been told, sorry, there's nothing available."

Ouellette has placed herself on a wait-list, while continuing to call different clinics.

"And they go probably a couple of more years. So if I get sick, I have to either go to the ER or I have to go to a clinic and try and see a doctor there."

According to the Ontario Medical Association, 2.3 million people across the province do not have regular access to primary care and that number is expected to nearly double in just two years,

"Lack of access to a family doctor can negatively impact health outcomes," says OMA President Dr. Andrew Park.

He says that while Ontario needs family doctors, medical students are avoiding family medicine.

"What does this all mean for patients? It means that there will be fewer family doctors practicing family medicine, which means less access to care."

Costs for running doctors' offices are way up, but their payments are not.

"In the past 10 years, inflation has grown by 25.4 per cent, while average billings have grown by only 6.1 per cent," says Park.

That's on top of a growing administrative burden.

"If you imagine any job that you do, if you to do a simple task and that task to 15 steps instead of two, that's what it's like practicing family medicine these days," explains Park.

Doctors want the issues addressed.

"We want to urge the urgency. This is urgent. We need to do something now so that students will pick family medicine as the career of choice," says Dr. Azadeh Moaveni, director of undergraduate medical education in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.

So that patients – like Ouellette — can have a family doctor.

"Yeah, something's broken," says Ouellette. 

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