The Alberta Government’s Access Fund recently provided $10 million in funding to health sciences education throughout the province.
The funding will allow for 40 new physician-training positions–20 at the U of C and 20 at the U of A–as well as 340 nursing positions and approximately 150 for other health care professionals.
"It’s a step to respond to the input we’ve been getting from post-secondary institutions that they require more student spaces to meet the demand of enrollment pressures," said Alberta Learning Spokesman Ed Greenberg. "This is certainly a good step forward."
Dean of Medicine Dr. Grant Gall is enthusiastic about the funding.
"We have just notified an extra 20 applicants that they are admitted to medical school," he said. "We get 1,300 applications a year for 69 positions and about 1,000 of those meet the criteria to be admitted. Basically we only admit seven per cent. It’s very easy for us just to go further down the list."
Though both parties consider the extra funding a positive change for health care in the province, they acknowledge the severe shortage of doctors.
"This is part of Alberta Learning’s ongoing plans to address high labour market demands, as well as those of students and key health- related areas," said Greenberg.
Citing the province’s Physician’s Resource Planning Committee, Gall noted Alberta currently needs 400 more physicians now and will be short 1,000 in the next five years. Higher enrollment will help fill the gap.
"Over the next year, there’s a planning committee in health that will look at what the numbers should be," said Gall. "We’re proposing that both the faculties of Medicine at the U of A and U of C go to 125 [student positions]; a total of 250 output for the province."
Nevertheless, students who enter the Faculty of Medicine this year will not qualify as physicians for at least five years–10 or 12 if they decide to specialize as opposed to becoming a general practitioner.
"We also need to look at short-term and medium-range solutions, and one is certainly retention," said Gall. "Across Canada we lose about 400 of the graduation class of physicians to the U.S. each year, out of a class of about 1,500."
The funding will be divided equally between infrastructure and operating costs.
"This addresses the need for acquiring equipment and renovating facilities, as well as the funding to put the instructors or the professors in place to carry out the training for the new [students]," said Greenberg.
Gall said work is already underway to renovate current educational space to fit the needs of a bigger student body.
"We’ve been expecting this, so we actually have started a process of renovating our lecture theatres so they’re larger and more usable for today’s needs in terms of having computer connections and power connections, as well as increasing the size," said Gall. "If we renovate our space and use it efficiently we can handle 125-150 students."
The new funding will also allow the faculty to hire 100-200 full- and part-time instructors over the next five years.