Obstetrician shortage endangers moms, babies: report
Published Friday, December 5, 2008 7:55AM EST
TORONTO - Canada faces a critical shortage of obstetricians, the professional group representing this type of medical specialist warned Thursday.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada said mothers and their babies will be put at risk unless substantially more obstetricians are trained in coming years.
"Women are stressed because they can see that if they're going to live in Fort McMurray and there are only two doctors there in a city that's over 100,000 ... and both of them are over 55 years old, it doesn't look pretty good," Dr. Andre Lalonde, executive vice-president of the society, said Thursday.
The organization released results of a survey it conducted among members, looking at how many obstetricians and gynecologists are delivering babies, how long they intend to practise as well as how medical residents in the specialty plan to structure their work hours.
They found only 1,370 obstetricians are currently providing prenatal, antenatal - birthing and delivery - and postnatal care. That number is forecast to drop by as much as a third over the next five years, the report on the survey results said.
Younger doctors - predominantly women - don't want to work the round-the-clock schedules of obstetricians of old. Many plan to take breaks in their careers to have children and don't want to spend as much time on call, the survey found.
"They want to have a better work-life balance than the ones who are retiring right now," Lalonde said.
"Our young doctors want to do that kind of work but they want to do it in a reasonable fashion and they want to do it for the safety of the public."
"You wouldn't let transport drivers, airplane pilots work the hours that your own doctor's working, and then you expect them to be wide awake and to give you 100 per cent results on surgery or emergency (care). That's what they're calling into question."
The society is calling on governments to increase the number of medical school spots for obstetrics and gynecologists by 30 per cent a year for three years. That means training about 25 or 30 extra doctors in this specialty a year, Lalonde said. After that an additional 10 per cent apiece for three years is needed, the group said.
They also recommended rotating medical residents in the specialty into smaller cities and towns in the hopes it might encourage some to practise later in smaller centres. Small towns and rural areas have a chronic shortage of doctors of all specialties.
The organization is also calling for training of more midwives, who could take on more of the standard deliveries, freeing up physicians to handle the complicated births and the emergencies.