Alberta is hoping a $6 million investment in medical students can help bring more physicians to the province’s rural areas.
The province announced Saturday it would commit $6 million over the next three years to pay tuition for students in medical school.
In return for the financial aid, the students must agree to practise in a rural Alberta community after they graduate. The students will also complete their residency training at a rural site.
In a news release, Health Minister Tyler Shandro praised the initative, saying it would increase health-care access across the province.
“We are pleased for this new program to get off the ground to get more doctors working in rural areas,” Shandro said.
“Return of Service Agreements will give Albertans in rural and remote areas timelier access to a family doctor.”
Alberta’s Rural Health Professions Action Plan, an organization which has worked to bolster health-care in rural areas for the last 30 years, will administer the program.
Specifics of the program will be released in the future, following consultations with rural partners.
“(Our) demonstrated expertise administering support programs for present and future rural physicians makes this initiative an ideal fit for our organization, and reinforces our role as a trusted and collaborative partner for rural Alberta communities and Alberta’s medical schools,” said Dr. Gavin Parker, the Rural Health Professions Action Plan’s board chair, in the release.
In 2019, about 800 rural physicians were working in Alberta.
The province said among factors identified as making students more likely to work in a rural practice include a positive expose to rural areas during their undergraduate and a rural upbringing.
Of students who graduated from rural family medicine programs, 72 per cent of University of Alberta graduates and 66 per cent of University of Calgary graduates are practising rural or regional communities.
Alberta has long struggled to recruit physicians to rural areas and maintain their presence in the areas.
The issue bubbled again last year during the province’s prolonged dispute with doctors after Tyler Shandro unilaterally ripped up the contract between the two parties after negotiations fell apart.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information legislation last fall showed that at the height of the dispute, Alberta Health was tracking more than 200 rural physicians across 17 communities considered a risk of leaving the province or altering their services.