The Alberta Government is investing $1 million dollars to explore and research ways to attract and retain doctors and healthcare staff in rural communities.

Partnering with post-secondary institutions like the University of Lethbridge, Northwestern Polytechnic, and more, the government hopes to find ways to provide medical education outside of Edmonton and Calgary, as many doctors choose to stay in the community they were trained in. If more doctors are trained in rural communities, Minister of Health Jason Copping hopes and expects this to result in an increase of doctors in these communities.

“Expanding medical training in rural areas creates new opportunities for students who want to remain in their communities while making other students familiar with regions of the province and types of work they may not have considered before," Copping said.

Copping added this investment is a long-term move, as the primary focus is on recruitment and training for rural communities. Because of the time it takes to get through medical school, Copping said we shouldn't expect an immediate increase through this investment, but in 6-8 years this could go a long way.

While some may be frustrated to hear it won't make an immediate impact, Copping stressed the importance of planning for the future, and added the government is also doing several things now to address the doctor shortage.

"Help is on the way, this is just one piece of a much broader strategy. If you don't start now you're never going to solve it, so this is an important step and a critical step."

Copping listed several short term actions the government has taken, like attracting more immigrants with healthcare training to address some shortages, and then shortening the amount of time it would take for these immigrants to go through Canadian health care recertification. Other short term actions include a $12 million annual investment for the Rural Remote Northern Program, which is another way the government is hoping to attract and keep doctors in rural communities.

There are currently only two medical schools in Alberta, which are located at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. A big part of this $1 million investment is focused on how these universities can provide the same level of education and training in a rural community, so medical students can get more exposure outside of staying in Calgary.

“An investment in rural medical training is a direct investment in the future of rural and remote health in Alberta. We look forward to building on our existing relationships with partners across Alberta and significantly expanding the opportunities for future health professionals to learn and enter practice outside our largest urban centres, toward the goal that drives everyone involved in the health professions in this province — readily available, easily accessible, world-class health care for all," said Dr. Brenda Hemmelgarn, Dean of the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Copping added this $1 million will also go towards looking at how to address different community needs. He said he recognizes that what works in some communities may not work in others. For example: some areas may be ok with the amount of doctors they have, but need nurses. 

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