University of Calgary

Solving the shortage of rural medical specialists

UToday HomeDecember 4, 2012

Dr. Myhre examines a patient at his clinic. He is working on numerous strategies to get medical specialists into rural areas.Dr. Myhre examines a patient at his clinic. He is working on numerous strategies to get medical specialists into rural areas.Across Canada there is a shortage of medical specialists in rural areas with only 2.4 per cent of specialist physicians practicing rurally. There are numerous strategies being examined across the country to try and change these numbers, and one of these initiatives is happening at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. The Distributed Royal College Initiative (DistRCI) gives medical residents ― recently graduated physicians training in a specialty ― an opportunity to experience rural medical practice through rural and regional rotations.

“Research shows us that it is the experience had, and the relationships learners build, in rural areas that changes attitude,” says Dr. Doug Myhre, associate dean for Distributed Learning and Rural Initiatives at the University of Calgary.

Over a one-year period from July 2010 and June 2011, the DistRCI program placed 40 University of Calgary residents into rural rotations across Alberta and the NWT. Data was collected after their rotations to gain valuable insight about their experiences, and to see how the rotation changed their impressions about practices outside of the city of Calgary. A total of 73 per cent of residents completed the survey. Before the rural rotations, 45 per cent of the respondents indicated that they were likely to practice in a rural setting. After the rotations, this number increased to 75 per cent.

“Programs like this were perceived by the residents as educationally valuable and they may be critical in helping shift attitudes towards rural practice,” says Myhre. “The next step is to follow the residents to determine if the attitude change is sustained and is followed by a behavioral change as well.”

The DistRCI program continues and will place more specialty residents in rural communities. The program includes residents in many sub specialties, including general surgery, pediatrics, general internal medicine and anesthesia. The article was published in the Oct. 25 edition of Rural Remote Health.