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Alberta outlines education funding to train 3,400 more health-care workers

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping addresses a news conference in Edmonton, on Tuesday Dec. 6, 2022. Alberta has promised $200 million in funding for post-secondary health care programs as a part of its 2023 budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Alberta has promised $200 million in funding for post-secondary health-care programs as a part of its latest budget. 

Health Minister Jason Copping said in a news conference Monday at the University of Alberta in Edmonton that the funding would help train an additional 3,400 health-care professionals.

"Our ability to recruit and retain doctors is a top priority for our government," Copping said. "One of the best ways to do this is to make sure that there are more opportunities for Albertans to train and work closer to where they live."

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said many students in his constituency aren't being accepted into physician programs in Alberta, despite having mid-90 per cent grade averages. 

"The reason they sometimes can't be accepted is that program demand is very high," he said. "We end up losing many prospective medical students to other universities because our programs are at capacity."

The United Conservative Party government's funding would help add more seats in physician training programs at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, Nicolaides said,

Copping said $113 million of the funding, announced in last month's budget, would be spent over three years toward at least 100 medical residency positions.

The health minister said it is part of a long-term plan while leveraging a qualified immigrant workforce in the short run. 

"The medium-term … is increasing spots for international medical-trained graduates," Copping said.

He said his ministry is also canvassing to welcome international doctors, while the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta continues to work toward "streamlining their process to be able to recognize (international graduates') credentials."

Copping said the funding would help expand training for doctors in regional centres and rural communities. 

"If we train more Alberta medical students here in our province, they are more likely to stay once they have completed their training," he said.

The funding, if approved, would also support 30 international medical graduates to secure residency positions in Alberta for further training.

He added the province supports a team approach in the health-care system.

"It's not just about doctors, nurse practitioners (or) physician assistants," Copping said. "It is (also) pharmacists, right, who have the largest scope in the country here in Alberta, who can have the ability to write prescriptions (and) extend prescriptions."

Alberta Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said the province requires more than new funding to encourage people to work in health care.

"The UCP’s war on doctors drove many out of the province, increasing the workload and pressure for the doctors still here, and have made careers in practising medicine far less stable and predictable," Shepherd said in statement Monday.

"Prospective medical students see this chaos and question their future in Alberta."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press