Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
PHYSICIAN RESOURCE PLANNING
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians. A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. CMA supports the need for the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians.
1. Physician resource planning requires a pan-Canadian supply and needs-based projection model.
2. Infrastructure and resources as well as physician resources need to match the needs-based projection.
3. Strategies should be used throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate training system to address the current challenges matching physician resources to population needs.
4. Changing models of care delivery must be taken into consideration when developing physician resource projection models.
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians.1
Ensuring an adequate supply of physician human resources is a major tenet of the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Health Care Transformation initiative.2 While the number of students enrolled in Canadian medical schools increased by over 60 percent between 2001-02 and 2011-12, some enrollment reductions are now occurring despite significant physician resource issues remaining, affecting patient care delivery across the country.
Currently, four to five million Canadians do not have a family physician. For older family physicians who may retire soon or wish to reduce their practice workload, there may be no colleagues able to take on new patients. Many new family physicians do not take on as large a roster of patients as those retiring. Even where overall supply has improved, recruiting and retaining physicians in underserved areas remains a challenge. Canada continues to license International Medical Graduates (IMGs) with 25% of practicing physicians receiving their medical degree from outside of the country3-the distribution of this group varies throughout Canada.
Physician disciplines in short supply vary by jurisdiction. Some new physicians (especially those dependent on hospital based resources) are finding it hard to secure employment in their discipline.4 Concern for the future has spread to postgraduate residents and medical students. Completing fellowships, to make physicians more marketable, are now commonplace. A major contributor to underemployment in some specialties is a lack of infrastructure and related human resources (e.g., operating room time, nursing care).
A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. At present, there is no pan-Canadian system to monitor or manage the specialty mix. Few jurisdictions engage in formal health human resources planning and little cross-jurisdictional or pan-Canadian planning takes place. Currently, few Canadian jurisdictions have a long-term physician resource plan in place, particularly one that employs a supply and needs-based projection model. It has been almost four decades since the federal government has completed a needs-based projection of physician requirements in Canada.5
Physician resource planning must consider the population's health care needs over a longer term as the length of time to train a physician can be over a decade long depending on the specialty; this also means that practice opportunities can change during the period of training. The consequences of the lack of monitoring and management of the physician specialty mix can be long-lasting. A 2014 comparison of posted physician practice opportunities across Canada versus the number of post-graduate exits suggests a supply and demand mismatch for both family physicians (more positions posted than post-grad exits) and for medical and surgical specialists (more post-grad exits than available positions posted).6
Overall goal and considerations of physician resource planning
The overall goal of physician resource planning is to produce a self-sustaining workforce that will effectively serve the health needs of Canadians by providing an adequate supply of clinicians, teachers, researchers and administrators.
Physician resource planning should recognize the following considerations:
* Physicians in training have a dual role of learner and clinical care provider.7
* Shifts in service delivery can occur with the development of new technologies, the changing prevalence of some disease states, the emergence of new illnesses and shifting public expectations (see Appendix A: The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning).
* Rural and remote communities possess unique challenges of not only attracting physicians but also in the nature of skills required to provide services.
* Physicians are required for services to patient populations who fall under federal jurisdiction including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, First Nations and Inuit, refugees and refugee claimants, veterans, and prisoners in federal penitentiaries; this includes consideration of how they are attracted and the skills they require.
* The full use of national medical services should be utilized instead of outsourcing to other countries. In instances where outsourcing of medical services occurs, Canadian training and certification standards must be met.
* The emphasis from governments and the public for 24/7 access to a wide scope of physician and health care services must be balanced with the possibility of more fragmented care from multiple physicians involved in the care of a single patient.
* There is a need for more clearly defined scopes of professional activity and optimal interactions among primary care physicians including family physicians who acquire enhanced/advanced skills to meet community needs, general specialists and subspecialists, particularly in the large urban areas where these three broad groups co-exist.
* It is also relevant to define the role and most appropriate interactions of physicians with other healthcare professionals, including but not limited to physician assistants, specially trained nurses, dieticians, therapists and pharmacists.
* The current shift to alternate payment plans and collaborative care models may, increase or decrease the non-clinical portion (e.g., research, teaching) of a physician's workload and thus increase the need for additional physicians.
* The scheduling for the provision of after-hours care can have an effect on the use of physician resources (See CMA's policy statement on Management of Physician Fatigue for more information).
* High tuition fees affect the social demographic mix of those seeking medical degrees while higher debt loads and the opportunity to practice in various models of care can influence specialty choice. 8 Similarly, advice from supervising faculty role models, negative/positive experiences during training, perceived lifestyle of the discipline, personal finances and earning potentials of medical disciplines all influence a medical student's specialty choice and in turn what health services will be available to future populations. Reliable and valid information on the current and future needs of the Canadian population can help trainees to make evidence-based decisions that allow them to select careers that match the needs of their patients.
* Patterns in the transition of retiring physicians' practices need to be identified.
It is essential to project not only the number of physicians but also some measure of their likely level of professional activity. Practice patterns may vary in response to changes in lifestyle among physicians, changing health technologies, group practices, interdisciplinary care models, and increased specialization of many generalist specialists and family physicians.
The academic sector must ensure the provision of high-quality undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education programs, and remain internationally competitive in the recruitment and retention of a first-class teaching and research community.
Structured mentorship programs and formal career counseling should be a required component of all undergraduate and postgraduate curricula in Canada.9 Teaching institutions and postgraduate accreditation authorities need to recognize the risk in requiring students to make critical career choices before exploring all the options and should develop strategies to mitigate those risks, which may include tools for assessing aptitudes. Formal career counseling throughout medical education and training can boost employment success. Results of supply projection models should also be readily available to students and advisors so an informed choice can be made.
There is a need to ensure flexibility at the undergraduate, postgraduate, and re-entry levels of medical education, with the recognition that the requirements for specialist services may change. It also allows room for standardized transfers of residents between programs and locations and for the integration of international medical graduates (IMGs). CMA recommends that a ratio of 120 postgraduate training positions per 100 medical graduates be re-established and maintained. Canadians studying medicine abroad and other IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada must be explicitly factored into the planning for the capacity of the post-MD training system. CMA supports measures to facilitate the acculturation of IMGs.
The objective of seeking reasonable self-sufficiency for the full range of physician services must be paramount.10 Self-sufficiency is defined as ensuring that the annual output of the undergraduate and postgraduate sectors of Canadian medical schools meets the medical service needs of the Canadian public. This will reduce the need to attract physicians from countries that face a higher burden of disease whose requirements for physician services exceed those of Canada. It is important to facilitate the retention of physicians who train in the Canadian postgraduate system.
There must be adequate human and physical infrastructure to support physician training. An adequate supply of clinical educators is required to prevent training bottlenecks. Strategies that utilize untapped health infrastructure resources within and outside the academic community such as satellite or distributive medical education training sites should be considered for not only training reasons but for retention purposes as well.
Effectively matching supply to societal needs
Residency training positions should reflect current and emerging population needs and if possible, job availability at the national level. Mechanisms should be in place to assist medical training programs to adjust to changing health needs in a timely manner.
Physician resource planning can benefit from enhanced evaluation of community health needs, as established by thorough determinations of health status, epidemiological studies, input from communities and other needs assessments.
In recent years, attention has been given to augmenting the provision of care to properly respond to Canada's growing seniors' population. This will require an assessment of physician resource trends among specialties that focus on seniors' care including the capacity to deliver quality palliative end-of-life care throughout Canada.
To address geographic maldistribution, programs should train physicians in the wide spectrum of practice that is required for underserved communities-both rural and urban-as well as incorporate the involvement of the communities throughout the medical trainee life cycle. Programs to attract and retain physicians, including those from rural and underservice areas, need flexible incentives to address the professional and personal needs of physicians. Financial incentives, locum support, spousal employment, children's education and support from other specialists are key factors that need to be addressed. Also, the attraction and retention of physicians to underserved areas requires the presence of adequate technical equipment and personnel.
Exposure to patterns of community practice-including generalist training-outside large urban tertiary/quaternary centres may help attract individuals into specialties best suited for rural and regional centres. CMA encourages family physicians to maintain their skills in comprehensive family medicine, while supporting their choice to acquire additional skills that will better serve the needs of their community.
It is important to strive and budget for a critical mass of physicians required to deliver basic services to given populations to permit reasonable life-style management and the avoidance of professional isolation. Coercive measures that restrict physicians' choice of location and subsequent geographic mobility are not supported.
Concentrated efforts are needed to assist new graduates of Canadian residency programs and established physicians find optimal employment in their discipline within Canada. The issue of facilitating the mobility of physicians among provinces and territories (including locum work) requires dialogue with and cooperation from individual provincial and territorial licensing authorities.
CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. Physician human resource plans should be reviewed on an ongoing basis, examining current supply and attrition patterns to determine if new policies are required or changes are needed to the undergraduate and postgraduate complement.
Collaborative approach to physician resource planning
Physician resource planning is complex, requiring the involvement of provincial/territorial medical associations, national specialty societies, the Royal Canadian Medical Service (Canadian Armed Forces), special medical interest groups, the medical education sector, the health care facilities sectors, governments, other health care professionals and other key stakeholders.
CMA is committed to promoting a collaborative and respectful interaction among all the disciplines within the medical profession and recognition of the unique contributions of each to an efficient, high-quality and cost-effective health care delivery system. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline.
CMA supports the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. The recruitment and retention policies available at the provincial level can play a significant role in health human resources distribution and evolution. The federal government in conjunction with the provincial Deputy Ministers and Deans of Medicine, should continue to fund a pan-Canadian supply based planning model as laid out by the Physician Resource Planning Taskforce and extend its support to the second phase which is a comprehensive needs based planning model that will be accessible to governments and the profession.
Given the importance of a planned, open and professional approach to physician resource planning, the CMA encourages all stakeholders to permit researchers, policy planners and other relevant organizations access to their physician resources database at the national and jurisdictional level while protecting the privacy of individual physicians. The CMA will continue to seek input into the design and structure of any such national databases.
The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning
As in the past, a number of technological developments11 will alter the future demand for medical services and how medicine is practiced. Examples of such technological developments include: health information technologies (HITs); technologies to support distance care and self-monitoring (e.g., telemedicine, implantable or wearable sensors); surgical robotics; advanced diagnostic testing; genomic technologies; integrated care teams; and new funding models. It is important to consider how these developments will affect future supply and training (i.e., skill sets) of physicians as part of physician resource planning.
There is little evidence about whether new technologies increase or reduce working hours.12 However, the adoption of new technologies can lead to new roles and opportunities for physicians as well as for other staff. New technologies can also lead to a greater role for patients in taking responsibility for their own health. There is extensive evidence that new technologies can improve the quality of patient care, especially when used in addition to existing care rather than as a substitution.13
A key factor in assessing the impact of new health technologies on physician resource planning is the rate of adoption and diffusion of new technologies. The rate can vary widely depending on an extensive range of factors including ease of use, safety, cost (both in terms of acquiring the technology and to train the clinician), compatibility and culture/attitudes. Not all new technologies are successfully adopted or lead to positive outcomes. Moreover, unlike other sectors, the adoption of health care technologies does not often lead to lower costs.14 The adoption can also be influenced by broader factors such as changing patient needs and the government's fiscal resources.
One key impact of emerging health technologies is a shift in the location where care is received. For instance, less invasive surgery will lead to greater use of community services for follow up care rather than in-hospital care. Likewise, the technologies can support the provision of more specialized services in small and remote communities by family physicians with the appropriate training and support.
Emerging health technologies can also impact the type of care provided. The literature suggests the impact will be felt more in sub-specialty areas with care shifting from one subspecialty to another.15 Advances in non-invasive surgical interventions will continue to drive practice convergence such as seen with cardiac related procedures.16
The accelerated use of HITs specifically could have the greatest overall impact on health human resources due to such factors as: the need for increased training to use HITs; and an increased need for health informatics specialists (both medical and non-medical).15 Automated knowledge work tools will almost certainly extend the powers of many types of workers and help drive top-line improvements with innovations and better decision making.17
The move to more collaborative care models, particularly in primary care, can be expected in the coming years. Common characteristics of these models include comprehensive chronic disease prevention, population-based services and programs, full use of electronic medical records, quality monitoring, dedicated time to team building and collaboration, and a wide range of health care providers functioning to their full scope of practice.18 Multi-disciplinary teams could also involve a wider range of providers such as IT specialists, bio-engineers and genetic counselors. While CMA has previously called for funding models to be in place to allow physicians and other health care providers to practice within the full scope of their professional activities,19 a significant issue will be how such collaborative care models can be funded by governments on a sustained basis.
Physicians and other health care providers need to be trained to effectively adopt any new technology. The literature is clear that physicians must be engaged in any discussions regarding new and current health technologies to ensure their proper assessment and successful implementation.20 Previously, CMA has called for:
* A flexible medical training system based on informed career choice to accommodate changes in medical practice and physician resource needs;
* A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions within the postgraduate training system to enable practicing physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline.21
* Recognition that scopes of practice must reflect these changes in societal needs (including the need of the public for access to services), societal expectations, and preferences of patients and the public for certain types of health care providers to fulfill particular roles and functions, while at the same time reflecting economic realities.22
1 This policy is to be used in conjunction with CMA's policy statements on Management of Physician Fatigue (2014), Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009), Physician Health and Well-Being (1998), Tuition Fee Escalation and Deregulation in Undergraduate Programs in Medicine (Update 2009), and Rural and Remote Practice Issues (1998).
2 Canadian Medical Association. Health Care Transformation in Canada. Change That Works, Care That Lasts. Ottawa: The Association; 2010. Available: http://www.hpclearinghouse.ca/pdf/HCT-2010report_en.pdf (accessed 2015 May 04).
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Physicians in Canada, 2013: Summary Report Ottawa: The Institute; 2013 Sep.
4 College of Family Physicians of Canda, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2013. Backgrounder. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/OFFICIAL-RELEASE_NPS-2013-Backgrounder_EN.pdf
5 The last federally commissioned study, the Report of the Requirements Committee on Physician Manpower to the National Committee on Physician Manpower, was published by the Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1975.
6 Research conducted by the Canadian Medical Association. Fall 2014.
7 National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours. Fatigue, risk and excellence: Towards a Pan-Canadian consensus on resident duty hours. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 2013.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Tuition fee escalation and deregulation in undergraduate programs in medicine (update 2009). Ottawa" The Association; 2003 June. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca
9 The Canadian Association of Internes and Residents. CAIR Position Paper on Mentorship. June 2013. http://residentdoctors.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CAIR-Position-Paper-on-Mentorship_June-2013_en.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 29).
10 Self-sufficiency is a key principle of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning. Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources. 2009. How Many Are Enough? Redefining Self-Sufficiency for the Health Workforce: A Discussion Paper. The policy is also consistent with the World Medical Association and the World Health Organization (The WHO Global Code of Practice of the International Recruitment of Health Personnel). http://www.who.int/hrh/migration/code/code_en.pdf?ua=1
11 Definition of Health Technologies (World Health Organization): "The application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives."
12 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
13 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 2)
14 Skinner J. "The costly paradox of health-care technology". MIT Technology Review. 2013 Sep 5.
15 Anvari M. Impact of information technology on human resources in healthcare. Healthcare Quarterly, 10(4) September 2007:84-88.
16 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 2).
17 McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. McKinsey & Company 2013.
18 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
19 Canadian Medical Association. The Evolving Professional Relationship Between Canadian Physicians and Our Health Care System: Where Do We Stand? Ottawa: The Association; 2012
20 Steven A. Olson et al., Healthcare technology: Physician collaboration in reducing the surgical cost. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. (2013) 471:1854-64.
21 Canadian Medical Association. Flexibility in Medical Training (update 2009) Ottawa: The Association; 2009.
22 Canadian Medical Association. Scopes of practice. Ottawa: The Association; 2002.
TUITION FEE ESCALATION AND DEREGULATION IN UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN MEDICINE (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is very concerned about high and rapidly escalating, undergraduate medical school tuition fees across Canada. Ontario set a precedent for the deregulation of tuition fees in May 1998 and many provinces have since followed. This policy gives universities, including medical schools, the discretion to set fees for training in those areas that lead to professional careers, such as medicine. For the 2008-2009 academic year, first-year tuition fees at most Ontario medical schools were triple the tuition fees in 1997-1998 at an average of $16,550 per year;1 this figure does not include compulsory "other fees" that can be as much as $1,700 per year.2 Irrespective of whether tuition fees have been regulated, some medical schools outside of Ontario have doubled their tuition fees within the same time period. Decreased government funding to universities is increasing the fiscal pressures on institutions and is driving these dramatic tuition fee increases. The CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant and detrimental impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services.
Broad Effects of High Tuition Fees
Lack of Diversity
Medical education in Canada has traditionally been affordable and accessible to individuals from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups who later serve an equally diverse population. Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees may close the door to individuals who either cannot afford the high costs of a medical education or wish to avoid the prospect of significant debt load upon graduation. High tuition fees may therefore create an imbalance in admissions to medical school by favouring those who represent the affluent segment of society and not the variety of groups reflected in the Canadian population. The proportion of medical students from lower income families is already extremely low and decreasing further.3 Paradoxically, funds that should be injected to making tuition fees reasonable - and therefore more accessible by a broader range of society - may soon need to be allocated to creating career promotion and special financial support programs that target those groups that have been alienated by high tuition fees.
Influence on Practice Choice and Practice Location ("Brain Drain")
It is likely that paying off debts as quickly as possible will become a key consideration when determining practice location and specialty. For instance, more students may feel compelled to maximize their earning potential by pursuing those specialties that generate high incomes; others may choose those specialties with short training periods so they can enter the workforce and start to pay off debts sooner.
Debt load may also influence where graduating physicians choose to practise medicine. The increasing willingness of American recruiters to pay off the debts of new graduates provides tremendous incentive to practise in the U.S. and explore research opportunities; unfortunately, it only aggravates the ongoing problem of the "brain drain" of Canadian physicians.4 While we have been enjoying a net gain of physicians from the U.S., we may experience net loss with physician shortages expected in the U.S. More physician retention and recruitment initiatives are needed to encourage physicians to remain in or return to Canada. This is especially true for rural and remote communities. Urban areas are often in a better financial position to offer incentives to new graduates than rural and remote communities where physician shortages are most pronounced.
Effects on Rural and Remote Areas
The CMA believes that governments must be made aware of the potentially negative impact of high tuition fees and student debt on physician workforce supply for the rural and remote areas of Canada. Research shows that medical students from rural and remote areas have a greater likelihood of returning to these communities to practise medicine.5 Research also shows that students of rural origin have higher student debts6 and are underrepresented in Canadian medical schools.7 Students from rural and remote communities face the challenge of not being able to live at home while they attend university. They must assume high relocation expenses and travel costs, as well as separation from their families while they are away at school. Of student respondents to the 2007 National Physician Survey, 53.1% of rural students compared with 67.4% of urban medical students had no debt upon entering medical school. When asked to predict their expected debt upon completion of medical school, 33.2% of rural students compared with 23% of urban students expected their debtload to exceed $100,000.8 Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees might make both the personal and financial costs of pursuing a medical education too significant for students from rural and remote areas to even consider. As a result, this may generate fewer physicians willing to practise in these areas and exacerbate the problem most rural and remote communities already face in attracting and retaining physicians. High tuition fees might also further increase the reliance on international medical graduates in rural and remote communities. While the CMA values the contributions of international medical graduates in alleviating shortages in physician supply, it believes that Canadian governments must adopt the guiding principle of self-sufficiency in the production and retention of physicians to meet population needs.
Effects on New and Potential Medical Students
Medical students affected by high and escalating tuition fees will graduate with unprecedented debt loads. Enormous education costs, already a reality in some provinces, are a growing trend. In 2007, over one third (36%) of students said they expected debtloads of $80,000 or more upon completion of medical school.9
A number of factors, as highlighted below, contribute to students' financial burden and may affect their ability to pay off debts and meet financial obligations. This, in turn, may influence their choice of medical discipline and practice location. Exorbitant education costs may also result in students considering dropping out of, or taking longer to complete, their medical studies because they cannot afford the ongoing costs, or are too overwhelmed with the combined stress of their medical studies and trying to make financial ends meet. The CMA is very concerned that excessive debt loads will exacerbate the stress already experienced by medical students during their training and will have a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.
Previous Education Debt and Accumulative Debt
Most Canadian medical schools make an undergraduate degree a prerequisite to application. As such, by the time most students are accepted into medical school, they may have already accumulated debt from a previous undergraduate degree. Many students have also completed postgraduate degrees before entering medical school.10 This debt continues to accumulate during the undergraduate years of medical school and into the postgraduate training period, which is anywhere from two years to seven years in duration. This does not include additional time spent doing fellowships. It may be very useful to establish a national clearinghouse of public and private financial assistance programs to help students in their search for financial support.
Limited or No Employment Opportunities during Undergraduate Training
Tuition fees, along with ongoing increases in living expenses, are already making it very difficult for some students to make ends meet. It makes matters worse that there are limited or no opportunities to generate income through employment during the academic year and the summer months. Given the intensity of the medical school program, some schools strongly advise against working part time. To further compound the problem, some schools have very short summer breaks. For those schools that do provide summer holidays, the holidays often start later than other university programs, by which time employment opportunities are scarce or low paying. There is also the common expectation that medical students will undertake unpaid clinical or research elective experiences during the summer to enhance their desirability for postgraduate medical programs.
Limited or No Remuneration for the Clinical Clerkship
During the clerkship years, there are no summertime breaks because students spend these years working in hospitals and other clinical settings. All Canadian medical students (outside of Québec) receive a relatively small stipend during their clerkship varying from $2,808 to $6,000;11 however, the stipend had previously been abolished in medical schools in Ontario and Québec in the early 1990s. Fortunately Ontario reinstated the stipend as the Final Year Medical Student Bursary in 2004.12
In addition to very limited or no opportunities to generate employment income, medical students must bear a number of unique and significant costs. These include very high textbook and instrument costs, as well as a variety of expenses associated with their clerkship, such as travel to and from the clinical setting and the need for professional attire. The introduction of distributed medical education including satellite campuses, co-campuses and rural learning sites has increased the amount of travel required of medical students as well as the associated costs.
Off-site electives also generate many additional expenses, including the cost for travel to the site - which may be in a different province - as well as accommodation and other living expenses. A 1999 survey of graduating medical students revealed that more than half took an off-site elective at a specific institution in order to increase their chances of being matched to that site.13 As postgraduate training becomes even more competitive, the number of students taking off-site electives may increase and so will the number of students who are adding this expense to their overall debt load.
Medical students must also assume considerable costs related to interviews for residency training, including the high costs for travel to various interview sites, accommodation expenses, application fees for the resident matching service and other miscellaneous expenses. There is also a considerable fee for the qualifying examination that is written at the end of medical school.
Insufficient Public Funding and Increasing Reliance on Bank Loans
Government financial support programs (bursaries and loans) are not increasing to meet students' needs due to rising tuition costs and living expenses. As a consequence, the number of students who must rely on interest-bearing bank loans to help support themselves while they are in school may increase. Unlike some government programs, repayment of bank loans often cannot be postponed until after graduation and interest payment is required during the course of study; this further exacerbates students' financial stress.
Upon graduation from medical school, students must pursue two to seven years of postgraduate training to obtain a licence to practise medicine. This training period is marked with fees for examinations as well as an annual tuition and/or registration fee. During 2008-2009, the tuition fee was as much as $3,900 in some provinces.14 Residents are also required to work long hours in hospitals and other clinical settings and have frequent on-call responsibilities. Although residents do receive a salary for this work, the remuneration is relatively modest when these factors and debt servicing payments are considered. In fact, mandatory debt maintenance can consume a very significant proportion of a resident's pay.15 The CMA opposes tuition fees for residents. While the CMA's opposition to residency tuition is based on a number of factors not limited to its financial impact, clearly, tuition fees exacerbate debt.
High Practice Start-up Costs and Decreased Pay Potential
Licensed physicians wanting to establish a clinical practice currently face start-up costs estimated between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on their practice specialty and type (e.g., solo versus group practice).16 Some specialties require capital investment over and above the basic start-up costs. These expenses will add to the significant debt that new physicians will bear in the next few years.
In addition to significantly higher debt load than the previous generation of new physicians, a number of factors may influence the net income of physicians and their ability to pay off debts. These include billing caps, stagnant fees for services, high malpractice insurance fees, overhead expenses and increasing non-remunerative administrative responsibilities.
In summary, the CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services. This impact includes:
* creating socioeconomic barriers to application to medical school and threatening the diversity of future physicians serving the public
* exacerbating the physician brain drain to the U.S. where new physicians can pay off their huge debts more quickly
* generating fewer physicians available or interested in practising in rural and remote areas of Canada
In response to its concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and high tuition fee increases, the CMA recommends that:
1 governments increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases
2 any tuition increase should be regulated and reasonable
3 financial support systems for students be developed concomitantly or in advance of any tuition increase, be in direct proportion to the tuition fee increase and provided at levels that meet the needs of students.
Glossary of Terms
Undergraduate Program in Medicine, also known as "Medical School"
Medical school is the period of study, usually four years in duration that leads to the doctor of medicine or "MD" degree upon graduation. Most Canadian universities require applicants to the undergraduate medicine program to have at least a three-year degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science degree) before they are eligible to apply. Although the title "Doctor" is conferred upon successful completion of the undergraduate program, an additional two to seven years or more of residency training is required before these individuals can apply for a licence to practise medicine in Canada.
The clerkship is the period during the last one to two years of undergraduate studies in medicine during which medical students work in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices.
Many students take off-site electives during their clerkship. An "elective" is a course or training that is not mandatory to the curriculum, but may be elected or chosen by the student. An "off-site" elective means that the training is being provided at a location different from the medical school where the student is enrolled; for example, the elective may be in a different city, province, or even a different country.
During the last year of undergraduate training, most graduating medical students participate in a national process that matches them with available residency training positions in Canada.
Residency/Postgraduate Training Period
After earning his/her MD degree and receiving the title "Doctor," additional training is required in a specific area before an individual may practise medicine in Canada. This period of training is referred to as "residency" or "postgraduate training;" the individuals undergoing the training are called "residents." Residents usually work in hospitals (also called "teaching hospitals") under the supervision of a licensed physician. Depending on the field of study, residency training may range from two to seven years or longer if subspecialty training is pursued (e.g., pediatric cardiology). At the end of residency training, individuals must pass a number of examinations to practise medicine in Canada.
A fellowship is training sought by individuals who wish to obtain expertise in a specific area of medicine above and beyond basic residency requirements.
1 Tuition Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine: Session Commencing Fall 2008. Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, November 2008.
3 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
4 "Are We Losing Our Minds? Trends, Determinants and the Role of Taxation in Brain Drain to the United States," The Conference Board of Canada, July 1999.
5 Advisory Panel Report on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions. Canadian Medical Association, 1992.
6 2007 National Physician Survey.
7 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE, Johnson IL, et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. CMAJ 2002;166(8):1029-35. 
8 2007 National Physician Survey.
9 2007 National Physician Survey.
10 "Educational Attainment at Time of Application of Registered and Not Registered Applicants to Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2006-2007 (Table 105)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p154.
11 "Duration of Clinical Clerkship and Amount of Stipend in Canadian Faculties of Medicine 2008-2009 (Table 7)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p9.
12 Clinical Clerkship Stipends by Faculty of Medicine, 1995-1996 to 1999-2000, Canadian Medical Association Research Directorate, January 2000.
13 Results of the Post-Match Survey of Students Graduating 1999, Canadian Resident Matching Service.
14 "Post-MD Clinical Trainee Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2008-2009 (Table 6)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p8.
15 2007 National Physician Survey.
16 Practice Management, MD Management Ltd.