After experiencing several lean years, family medicine appears to have resumed its familiar role as one of the most popular specialty choices for Canada's new physicians.
Data from the first round of the 2013 Canadian residency match, compiled by the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS), indicate that 36.3% of this year's Canadian medical graduates (CMGs) ranked family medicine as their first choice of discipline.
The situation was far different a decade ago, when the proportion of new graduates making family medicine their first choice plummeted to 24%. (See CaRMS reports and statistics.)
This led to a warning from the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) in CMAJ. "We have to act immediately," said Dr. Cal Gutkin, then chief executive officer (CEO) at the CFPC. "If we accept 24%, then we're accepting that the whole system has to change. And if we fall further, it will have a significant impact on the population."
In 2013, such concerns have disappeared.
"We're certainly pleased with this year's results," said Dr. Francine Lemire, the college's current CEO, "and we like to think we've played a role."
She said steps taken by the college include creation of a section for medical students and the funding of family medicine interest groups within each medical faculty. "We have certainly been more organized in creating awareness about family medicine," she said.
Lemire said the employment problems facing new graduates in hospital-based specialties such as cardiac surgery and orthopedic surgery may have helped to improve family medicine's popularity, "but this is difficult to measure."
This year's results show that at every medical school except McGill (20.7%), more than 30% of graduates made family medicine their first residency choice, and at three schools the proportion rose to more than 40%. The Northern Ontario Medical School had the highest proportion of graduates choose family medicine (62.5%), followed by the University of Ottawa (45.8%) and Dalhousie University (41.9%).
Ninety-one percent of the 1,247 residency positions available in family medicine were filled in the first iteration of the match, compared with 71% in 2003.
Lisa Turriff, senior communications officer at CaRMS, said the 2013 results mark a 20-year high for family medicine. She said CaRMS believes there are numerous reasons for the change, including improved mentoring from practising FPs, improved fees and revamped medical school curricula that have led to expanded roles for family doctors.
CMA President Anna Reid, who completed family medicine training at the University of British Columbia in 1988, welcomed this year's results. "I think they show clear recognition among new graduates of the importance of general medicine in Canada," she said. "A decade ago the pendulum was swinging toward specialization and sub-specialization. Today, we are seeing it swing back."
CaRMS will be releasing its full match results later this summer.