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Health minister calls new training centres a boost for rural Alberta students

Posted on May 23, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers

Alberta Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange was excited to hear when she took over her present portfolio last June of the rural medical education program training centres that were being planned.

The projects were great news not only for rural residents who need a family physician but also for students as well, the minister said in a phone interview before the formal announcement recently at the University of Lethbridge.

Preliminary work had been done involving the U of L and other educational institutions as well as Alberta Health Services and the Ministry of Advanced Education.

“I was quite excited to hear about this project when I became the minister and we continued to work to make it a reality,’ said LaGrange.

For young Albertans who want to study medicine in the province, “I think this is quite a boost for them as well. I known many young people go off to study in the UK or Ireland or the Caribbean or Australia and now this opens that many more spaces here in Alberta, allowing them (Alberta students) the opportunity to study medicine in rural Alberta and then go back and provide that medicine to rural Alberta,” said the minister.

“This is very innovative and really a good way to meet a need, not just in Alberta but right across Canada and hopefully other provinces will take it as a template for some things they can do in their own provinces.”

Often it’s daunting for rural students to study in bigger centres such as Calgary and Edmonton in fields such as nursing and other health care fields, said the minister adding she heard similar sentiments when she was the Minister of Education regarding students going into education.

“For a lot of these young people, they want to focus their efforts, they want to go back home and give back to their local communities. And this is a way for them to study in a more rural setting and deal with the rural issues because rural issues are different, particularly if you’re a physician in rural Alberta you see everything walking through your door whereas in Calgary and Edmonton you can specialize a little bit more. And if you can’t deal with a particular issue, you can send them to a colleague that can.”

In rural Alberta, doctors sometimes don’t have that availability, said the minister.

An analysis by AHS, said LaGrange, projects there is currently a shortage of about 110 family medicine physicians in rural Alberta and the minister expects that number to probably grow as the province’s population increases.

Last year, Alberta attracted more than 220,000 people which puts a challenge on educational facilities as well as medical facilities and medical resources, said LaGrange.

So there will be a need to increase particularly the number of rural physicians.

LaGrange anticipates when the two centres are fully functioning there will be 100 plus physicians per year being trained. But she points out, doctors are also retiring every year so the province has to make sure it’s replacing those physicians or those who are leaving Alberta for the provinces.

“We want to make sure that we have a new young population that are indeed attracted to working in rural medicine, particularly rural family medicine. And so this is another way of attracting young people to the profession,” added LaGrange.

The province is taking a multi-pronged approach to improving health care which includes the new rural medicine training centres.

And it is also looking at developing a new funding model for family practitioners and is working strategically with the Alberta Medical Association on since last fall “because we do feel that there is a need for a new funding model. That’s the other reason why I established an additional $257 million on top of a historic $6.6 billion budget for physicians” to stabilize family medicine in the province,” LaGrange added.

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