Physician resource planning

Updated: Feb. 13, 2017

In the early and mid-2000’s, Alberta had fewer physicians per population than the national average and efforts were made to recruit and retain more physicians in the province. These efforts, including financial incentives and amendments to legislation, resulted in an increase in Alberta medical graduates and increases in the number of physicians coming to Alberta from other countries and the rest of Canada.

In recent years, growth in the number of physicians has dramatically outpaced Alberta’s population growth and Alberta now has more physicians per population than the national average.

At the same time, the percentage of physicians practising in rural and remote areas in Alberta decreased. Despite growth in Alberta’s overall physician supply, physician access continues to be an issue in many rural and remote areas as well as in some urban areas. These trends also impact the affordability and sustainability of the health system.

Physician resource planning is an important part of addressing these issues and meeting Alberta Health’s vision of ensuring that Albertans receive the right health care services, at the right time, in the right place, provided by the right health care providers and teams with the right information.

The need for planned physician growth

As part of the amending agreement between Alberta Health and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), a needs-based Physician Resource Plan will be developed to address the supply, distribution and cost of physician resources.

A multi-stakeholder Physician Resource Planning Committee (PRPC) will advise the Health Minister on the appropriate supply and distribution of physicians in Alberta by developing and regularly updating the plan.

The PRPC will develop physician forecasts to identify Alberta’s short and long-term needs in the context of a changing health care system. It will also provide advice to government and appropriate stakeholders on integrating physician resource planning with the planning of other health human resources, current provincial physician workforce planning processes, and strategies to address provincial physician distribution and supply issues.

Members of the PRPC will include:

  • Alberta Health (Chair)
  • Alberta Health Services (AHS)
  • Alberta Medical Association
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
  • Faculty of Medicine from the University of Calgary and Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry from the University of Alberta
  • Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA)
  • Medical Students’ Association
  • Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP)

Physician resource planning work begins

Physician stakeholders, including future PRPC members, first met in late October 2016. Information was provided on physician resources in Alberta, including trends in physician supply, distribution of physicians in Alberta, and the costs of physician services. Alberta Health and AHS also presented a proposal for regulatory changes that would give Alberta Health the authority to issue billing numbers only to new physicians who practice in positions identified in the Physician Resource Plan.

This approach will provide multi-stakeholder governance and oversight over physician resource planning in Alberta by establishing ways to better match physician resources with population health needs. It will also give government and its partners the flexibility to respond to changing health system, demographic, and economic environments.

Stakeholders met again on Jan. 19, 2017, and reviewed the current state of physician resource planning in Alberta and received updates about Alberta Health’s proposal for regulatory changes. While the committee received information about processes for determining physician resource needs, it has not yet had any detailed discussions about the needs-based Physician Resource Plan. No decisions have been made about the number of physicians required in Alberta or where they are needed most.

Alberta Health continues to hold individual and small group meetings with stakeholders to further discuss its proposal. Any proposed changes must be approved through the regulatory process, which includes consultation with stakeholders. Alberta Health is now listening to feedback on the proposal. This engagement will continue, including through the PRPC.

Physician resource planning principles

The following are a synthesis of current Alberta Health and AHS principles on physician resource planning. The PRPC has yet to develop its own set of principles that will guide the committee’s decisions. These will be addressed at upcoming meetings –

  • Recruitment plans will:
    • align with population-based needs using the best evidence available;
    • support building sustainable, system-focused value; and
    • be connected to AHS service delivery planning and consider an appropriate provider mix.
  • Decisions will be based on currently available evidence/data and will consider health system planning and context.
  • The planning and recruitment process will develop and evolve over time with iterative evidence-based assessment evaluated by the multi-stakeholder committee.
  • The plan will prioritize physician resources to optimize quality of care and include replacement of exiting physicians.
  • Physician recruitment will support responsible stewardship of the physician services budget and will remain within the plan.
  • Inter-professional and team-based care will be leveraged to optimize deployment of physician resources.
  • Physician recruitment will occur within the evolving regulatory and policy framework.
  • The physician resource plan will include a sufficient number of new positions per year to accommodate the average number of new Alberta graduate physicians who stay in the province.

Next steps

Alberta Health is finalizing a date for the next meeting. Stakeholders will continue their discussions about the proposed regulatory changes and the 2017–2018 Physician Resource Plan at that meeting.


Check back for updates and summaries of the discussions as the consultation process and PRPC meetings take place.

If you have questions regarding physician resource planning, please email us at