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New report highlights Canadian shortage of anesthesiologists in rural and remote regions

August 27, 2020

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A new report is calling for a Canadian national strategy for anesthesia services in rural and remote regions of the country.

“Anesthesia services are essential for providing surgical, obstetric and emergency services in the remote and rural areas of Canada, but there is currently a lack of adequate anesthesia services in these regions,” says Dr. Beverley Orser, co-author of the report and co-director of Sunnybrook’s Perioperative Brain Health Centre. “It’s a concern as there is a general shortage of physicians in rural areas and chronic shortages of anesthesiologists across the country.”

The report was recently published in CMAJ.

Anesthesiologists provide pain management services before, during and after surgery and childbirth. They also provide potentially life-saving resuscitation to patients on ventilators, a need highlighted during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers note in the report that “rural and remote areas of Canada are at risk of losing surgical and obstetric services because of a shortage of anesthesia care providers." They add “increased urbanization of medical services has contributed” to this trend.

Patients, including expectant mothers, must sometimes travel hundreds of kilometres to receive medical care and maternity services.

"Probably one of the most important calls to action is to undertake much better workforce planning," Dr. Orser said in a recent CBC News online article. "We need to understand what's happening and what's needed in the future and how to address it."

Researchers explain possible solutions to the shortage include the creation of a national medical license to enable specialist physicians to bring their expertise to remote communities.

Researchers say creating a national strategy for anesthesia services in rural and remote Canada will require five key components: social accountability, policy interventions, rural and remote practice models, a national research agenda, and mentorship and continuing professional education.