Doctor shortage a national challenge: YMA

A handful of family doctors will leave Whitehorse over the next year, says Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association. But by the end of August, four new physicians are expected to arrive.

A handful of family doctors will leave Whitehorse over the next year, says Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association.

But by the end of August, four new physicians are expected to arrive, said Pat Living, spokesperson for Health and Social Services.

There are 20 full-time family practices in Whitehorse, said Tadepalli. Ideally, the city would have about three or four more, he said.

“There is an incredible health-care challenge happening,” he said, including the shortage of beds at Whitehorse General Hospital.

Finding doctors to practise in the communities is always particularly challenging, he added.

Filling the gap created by departing physicians takes time, said Tadepalli. Being a doctor is “not like operating a bank teller job,” he said. Family physicians are not easily replaced.

But he also said the situation here is not unique.

“We are no different than other northern Canadian provinces and territories that are short of doctors.”

The end of the special licence program for foreign doctors has not helped the situation, said Tadepalli. The program, begun in 2001, allowed foreign doctors to practise in the Yukon for five years before needing to pass a national exam. The program ended in 2010.

The program did not create a sustainable family practice, said Tadepalli. Of the approximately 50 doctors who came because of the program, only about five have stayed, he said. This caused an “abrupt” departure of several physicians.

But Tadepalli remains optimistic about current initiatives to bring doctors to the Yukon.

Dr. Huy Chau, the medical association’s treasurer and secretary, said 10 physicians, including himself, have come in the last five to six years. This does not include doctors who came as part of the special licensing program. Of the 10 doctors, nine came as a result of funding from the College of Family Physicians of Canada to bring medical residents to the Yukon.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com