Alberta’s UCP government is trumpeting its plan to spend almost $200 million over three years to train thousands of new health care professionals.
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said Monday at the University of Alberta in Edmonton the expansion plan puts close to $20 million towards adding 120 new physician seats at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, representing about a 34 per cent increase by 2025.
Budget 2023 includes $72 million to create more than 3,400 new seats in post-secondary health care programs, and $113 million from Alberta Health to add 100 residency training spaces for newly graduated doctors over three years.
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Speaking with Postmedia earlier Monday, Nicolaides said the province’s post-secondaries are often turning away qualified applicants.
“We have students right here at home who want to pursue a career as a doctor, as a nurse, but spaces can be limited, and of course, having more folks join our health-care workforce and our health-care system helps to create a stronger system,” he said.
The government estimates that there were more than 3,500 qualified applicants who didn’t get accepted into health care training programs in the last year alone.
Nicolaides told Postmedia the operational funding will also help hire instructors, and that proposals from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary to expand physician spaces by 58 per cent over 10 years led to Monday’s announcement.
Health Minister Jason Copping said the province added 254 physicians and 800 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and health care aides in 2022.
“This expansion of the training program ensures that med school graduates have the residency opportunities needed to be able to fully practice,” he said.
After cuts to schools’ operating grants during the UCP’s first three budgets, Nicolaides said the new funding comes partly because the COVID-19 pandemic created health-care staffing shortages in Canada and around the world.
“That’s part of the reason why we began conversations with the U of A, the U of C, and others about how do we train more doctors? What’s needed from the government? How can we deliver on this?”
Nicolaides also pointed to the government’s targeted enrolment expansion program, which puts $111 million over three years towards creating school space in areas with the highest student demand, including non-trade construction, energy, technology, and business.
Boost will help expand care in rural and Indigenous communities
Dr. Brenda Hemmelgarn, dean of the faculty of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta said at the government announcement the funding will help expand health care availability, especially in rural and Indigenous communities.
“Today we’re investing in the future of each and every citizen in the province and moving towards making our vision of equitable access to health care a reality,” said Hemmelgarn.
Dr. Todd Anderson, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said he’s confident the funding will enable medical schools to recruit the teachers it will need to meet demand.
NDP Opposition health critic David Shepherd said Monday the additional funding for medical schools is important, but the UCP has already made practising medicine in Alberta far less stable and predictable, with residency positions still going unfilled.
“Alberta requires more than just new funding to encourage people to work in health care — we need a new government,” he said in a statement.
Before releasing its budget last month, the government announced an expanded bursary for internationally trained nurses and extra classroom seats for existing nursing bridging and licensing programs. It’s putting $15 million towards creating new programs to add 900 new student spaces for internationally educated nurses.
The UCP recently announced it will spend $1 million exploring potential regional medical training centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
The government estimates that last year’s budget helped create 2,500 new health care program seats with $26 million.