Doctors by numbers

The Yukon has more doctors per capita then any other region in Canada. "It is staggering to see how high the number is," says Derrick Hynes, Director of the Conference Board of Canada's Centre for the North.

The Yukon has more doctors per capita then any other region in Canada.

“It is staggering to see how high the number is,” says Derrick Hynes, Director of the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North.

The centre’s ongoing series of maps is trying to prove the disparity between the North and South when it comes to needs that affect peoples’ day-to-day lives, he says.

Even the comparison between the north and south within provinces proved the farther north you get, the fewer doctors there are.

And nothing proved this better than the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which showed only 16 and five doctors per 10,000 people, respectively.

The Yukon has 38 for every 10,000 people.

That’s more than any other region in Canada. More than the two other territories combined. More than the southern regions of Ontario and Quebec, which had 24 and 26 per 10,000 people, respectively.

More than many Yukoners would think.

But that number isn’t exactly right, according to Yukon doctors.

The centre’s data comes from the 2006 census – the most recent numbers for coast-to-coast that can be divided by region, says Hynes.

The only explanation is that the census does not differentiate between doctors who have since retired or are semi-retired, adds Hynes.

The Yukon’s Medical Association keeps a database.

It shows the territory has 71 resident physicians. That’s one doctor for every 500 people or 23 per 10,000. A difference of about 15 to the centre’s number, but still more than the other two territories and the northern regions of all the provinces.

“It’s more important to look at the distribution and types of doctors,” says Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s Medical officer of health.

The association shows that of those 71 resident doctors, two work in Dawson, one works in Mayo, five work in Watson Lake and 63 are in Whitehorse, with “some” offering visiting clinics in the other communities.

“This is a GP town,” Hanley says of Whitehorse. “Family physicians are doing the type of care specialists are doing down south. So you need more family physicians up here to provide the same level of care.”

“Usually, in Canada, there is almost a 50/50 split between specialists and general doctors,” says Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the medical association. “In the Yukon it’s more like 95 per cent GPs and five per cent specialists. So that’s why your numbers are so off the mark.”

Specialists can’t find enough year-round work to stay put, said Tadepalli.

That means Yukoners either have to wait to have work done by a visiting specialist, travel Outside to find a specialist, or hope their GP will take on cases normally handled by specialists.

“All we have is a surgeon, gynecologist and psychiatric specialist,” says Tadepalli. “There’s a lot of GP-plus kinds of things.”

Not only are most of the Yukon’s general practitioners faced with more, varying work – including administrative tasks – but many of them are hired for a specific facet of society, like the jail or workers’ compensation, says Tadepalli.

Plus, most practitioners living here have shared practices, meaning they have fewer hours for patients.

“There’s a core group of doctors that do a lot of work,” says Tadepalli, pointing to the lifestyle of seasonal and part-time work – with a lot of

‘on-call’ time – as a main draw for the resident doctors that we do have.

The result is that, while it’s a better position than a few years ago, there is still a portion of the population without a family doctor, says Hanley.

And it will always be a challenge to provide services in remote communities, adds Tadepalli.

As well, there is always a disparity when it comes to mental health and addiction services, and there is still the issue of outrageous healthcare costs in the North, he says.

One thing that is for sure is that whether higher or lower than the rest of the country, Yukon’s medical workforce is not secure.

There are few doctors doing crucial jobs, said Tadepalli.

“And it doesn’t take much of a deflection to be either in a surplus or deficit,” he says. “All it takes is a couple of people to leave or a couple of people to come on and then we are in limbo.”

These numbers are assessed every six months, Tadepalli says.

Tadepalli is already aware that the territory will lose five to six GPs in the next year, he says.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com