The Alberta government is spending $8 million to help direct more medical school graduates toward family medicine, where there is a chronic doctor shortage.

The funding, announced Thursday, will go to the family medicine department at the University of Calgary to:

  • Train more medical students and physicians in family medicine.
  • Create five new faculty positions.
  • Support research.

"[The funding] helps stabilize our department. It helps it grow and build greater capacity," said Dr. David Keegan, the department's undergraduate education director.

Despite there being 4,000 family doctors in Alberta, it's estimated there's a shortage of more than 1,000 family physicians for the province's 3.5 million residents.

One in four Calgarians don't have a family doctor.

"Our goal is that by 2013, half of our graduates are choosing family medicine as their first choice of career," said Keegan.

In 2008, only 18 per cent of medical graduates in Calgary pursued family medicine as a career, he said.

"That was the lowest in our history. It's gone up a bit since then, but it's still only 26.9 [per cent] when we really want to be looking at about 50 per cent," said Keegan.

Dr. Cathy MacLean, president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and head of family medicine at the U of C, said the provincial money should have a quick impact.

"One of the nice things about family medicine is our training program is only two years. You actually get to see those docs out in practice within about a two-year timeframe, so it's pretty quick," MacLean said.