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University of Calgary producing more family doctors

Record number of Faculty of Medicine graduates choosing careers in family medicine

CALGARY, ALBERTA -- (Marketwired) -- 03/11/14 -- Almost half of all University of Calgary medical graduates in 2014 will start their careers in family medicine, more than doubling the number of family doctors produced by the Faculty of Medicine in 2008.

This trend towards family medicine reflects the University of Calgary's focus over the last four years on increasing the number of family doctors locally.

"Albertans have long faced a shortage of family doctors," said President Elizabeth Cannon. "The University of Calgary is proud to support the Faculty of Medicine's concentrated efforts to promote family medicine as a fulfilling career among the next generation of physicians and the demonstrated commitment to meeting the needs of our community."

Each year, medical students in their final year of study apply for residencies through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) program. Students must select which residency or specialty they want to pursue after graduation.

When medical students across the country were "matched" to their residency programs this month, 45.4 per cent of University of Calgary students were matched to family medicine in the first round of the national matching system. That number is up from 38.8 per cent in 2013 and has more than doubled since 2008, when only 19.4 per cent matched to family medicine in the first round.

Over the last four years the Faculty of Medicine has launched a number of initiatives to produce doctors who meet the needs of Albertans. Within the MD program, first-year medical students are now required to shadow family physicians in clinical work to learn more about the role of family doctors and the career itself.

Students are also encouraged to take part in specialty projects in family medicine such as research and developing learning resources. Family physicians now teach classes on health topics that fall within their scope of care, such as headache, cough and mental health problems.

"What's important is that we develop a balance of types of doctors: approximately half as family doctors and half in other specialties," says Dr. David Keegan, undergraduate education director and deputy head of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Calgary.

"This year, we are basically on target for the balance for the first time in a long time. It's exciting that this partnership between the University of Calgary and Alberta Health is delivering on what we hoped it would," says Keegan.

Kali Penney says exposure to family medicine practices through her University of Calgary medical degree helped her decide to become a family doctor.

Originally from Kelowna, British Columbia, Penney had already considered becoming a family doctor like her parents before coming to Calgary. It was a trip to High Level, Alberta as part of her medical degree that convinced her to pursue family medicine.

"The family doctors in High Level had so much on their plate. They were working in the emergency department or were birthing babies. There was never a boring day," says Penney, who graduates from the Faculty of Medicine in May.

"Doctors in rural practices also have to be much more involved in deciding when to send a patient to see a specialist since seeing a specialist will mean hours of travel for each patient," Penney adds.

Penney begins her family medicine residency in Calgary on July 1. She hopes her residency improves her understanding of how various specialities work in this city so she can be a good resource for her patients if she opens a rural practice elsewhere in Alberta.

Of the 79 graduates who will study family medicine, 28 will stay in Calgary for their residency. The rest will do their residencies in Edmonton and other cities across Canada.

About the University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

For more information, visit ucalgary.ca. Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary and in our media centre at ucalgary.ca/news/media.

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