On Campus

The great doctors debate

Or: why is everyone taking offense at facts that aren't offensive?

It’s old news, it isn’t bad news, it isn’t anyone’s fault and it isn’t even all that difficult to deal with — and yet each and every mention of Canada’s doctor shortage causes a certain number of Canadians to start crying “discrimination!”

The facts, which Maclean’s made a cover a story a year and a half ago (and which the predecessor to this website first mentioned several months earlier) are as follows: female doctors tend to work fewer hours than the physicians of a previous generation, and fewer hours too than their male counterparts. And given that the majority of the students at Canada’s medical schools are female, and thus the majority of our new doctors are female, and given that all doctors and in particular female doctors work somewhat less than their predecessors, we are experiencing and will continue to experience a doctor shortage. Each average doctor of the future will be able to treat somewhat fewer patients than the average doctor of the past. That’s just a fact. It would appear that it’s easily remedied: all we have to do is increase medical school enrollment and/or increase the number of trained physicians recruited abroad.

This isn’t a crisis. Nobody’s suggesting that women physicians be somehow blamed or punished for the fact that you may be having trouble finding a family doctor or booking an appointment with a specialist; nobody’s calling for female doctors to be ordered to work more. There will be no roundup of women doctors for ritual stoning in the town square. Really. The facts are so banal that they should defy controversy. It’s just basic math: if a hypothetical family doctor can handle a patient roster of 1,000 patients, then a town of 1,000 people needs one family doctor. But if the average family doctor can only cover 500 patients, then we need to double our imaginary town’s physician population. That’s it. That’s all. Everyone take a Valium.

Perhaps if the researchers who first compiled these statistics had declined to be curious about the cause of our physician shortage, and had simply reported that, for reasons unknown and unknowable, today’s young doctors work somewhat less than yesterday’s doctors, we would all have moved on to considering how to address the situation. Maybe that would have been better. Instead, we’re wasting our time feeling wounded and alleging that women are victims of “scapegoating.” It’s depressing. Prescribe a course of treatment and discharge this patient already.

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