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News release
Nov. 1, 2023

Doctors urge government to resolve physician shortage in northern Ontario

THUNDER BAY, Ont., Nov. 1, 2023 — The Ontario Medical Association is calling on the provincial government to develop a physician workforce strategy to ease the doctor shortage in northern and rural Ontario.

While 2.3 million Ontarians do not have a family doctor, access to both primary and emergency care is especially challenging in northern and rural Ontario.

Communities in northern Ontario are actively recruiting more than 350 physicians, including more than 200 family doctors, according to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University. This does not reflect actual health-care needs, which are increasing. With half the physicians in northern Ontario expected to retire in the next five years, this situation will only worsen.

“Ontario’s rural and northern communities face profound physician shortages due to chronic recruitment and retention challenges,” said OMA President Dr. Andrew Park. “That means patients face persistent inequities in the care they receive and in their health outcomes, compared to people living in other parts of the province. We need to attract more doctors to the north and support them so they will stay here and we can begin to address those health gaps.”  

A physician workforce strategy is one of the key recommendations in the OMA’s new Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ Solutions for Immediate Action. The report contains 11 pragmatic solutions to getting the health-care system out of crisis by expanding access to team-based primary care, reducing the burden of unnecessary administration on physicians and expanding home and community care to tackle hospital overcrowding.

Dr. Park is in Thunder Bay and Dryden, Ont., this week meeting physicians, hearing about the unique health challenges in the north and sharing the OMA’s solutions.

Dr. Park noted that many northern emergency departments have had closures because of the doctor shortage. Family doctors, who also provide emergency care in the north, have unsustainably high workloads and are forced to sacrifice their primary care practice to keep emergency departments open. This has dire consequences for patient outcomes and puts physicians at increased risk of burnout.

To address all of these issues, the OMA is calling on the province to work with us to build a comprehensive physician workforce strategy. The OMA is developing a groundbreaking tool using artificial intelligence called PRIME (Physician Resources Integrated Model), which projects future health-system needs and capacity, such as how many family physicians and specialists will be required to meet patient needs in a specific geographic area.

Other OMA recommendations for northern Ontario include:

  • Creating a provincial pool of locums — the equivalent of a substitute teacher in the school system — so patients still have access to physician care when their doctor is away for illness, continuing education or vacation
  • More support networks, hubs of care providers and other innovative solutions to enable physicians to practise confidently in rural, remote and isolated communities. It is daunting to be the only physician in a community

About the OMA

The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario’s 43,000-plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.

For more information, please contact:
Leslie Shepherd, OMA Director of Earned and Social Media, at or 647-300-1753.