After some dark years of mass retirements and increasing patient loads, the number of family doctors in Hamilton is on the rise.

There are currently 367 family doctors practicing in Hamilton, eight off from the provincial guideline of 375 for a city this size. That’s a far cry from 2007, when Hamilton was about 40 off the provincial guideline.

It’s a good news story for Hamilton, which nine years ago was home to doctors with enormous patient loads, said Jane Walker, the city’s physician recruiter.

Age of family doctors in Hamilton

Total: 367

Average age: 52

Doctors in their 20s and 30s: 81

Doctors in their 40s: 75

50s: 122

60-64: 49

65-69: 21

Doctors 70 and older: 19

In 2008, Hamilton only had 331 family doctors, and the city was “in pretty dire straits,” Walker said.

“Physicians were really feeling stretched and pushed to the limit,” she said. “They were constantly being asked to take on new patients. The stress and pressure on them was really tremendous.”

In the last five years, this has turned around. The number of family doctors has increased steadily since 2008. In 2013, 19 permanent and five locum doctors came to Hamilton, Walker said.

It was enough to cover the physician retirements, deaths and relocations of the past year and increase Hamilton’s family doctor complement by two.

“It’s a good news story,” said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster at the city’s physician recruitment committee meeting Wednesday.

“It’s great to see we’re going down the right road,” agreed Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8.

Some other highlights:

  • 52 per cent of Hamilton’s family doctors are women compared to 37 per cent in Ontario. This increases the need for recruitment since female doctors tend to retire earlier than male ones, Walker said.
  • The average age of a family doctor in Hamilton is 52, slightly higher than the provincial average of 50.7.
  • Eighty one of Hamilton’s family doctors are in their 20s and 30s, up from 35 in 2007. Nineteen are 70 or older.
  • Even though doctors are coming to Hamilton to practice, they don’t always live here. Many live in Burlington and commute in to Hamilton, often because their spouses live in the Toronto area and Burlington is more central, Walker said.

The most common reason doctors leave town is because a spouse has found a job somewhere else, Walker said.

Walker’s most common doctor recruitment methods include one-on-one meetings and spreading the word at conferences and job fares.

The city spent $115,089 in 2013 to recruit family doctors. 

Year New doctors recruited Total number of family doctors
2005 17 345
2006 17 341
2007 19 340
2008 20 331
2009 18 332
2010 19 345
2011 26 349
2012 29 364
2013 24 367