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The Quebec Federation of General Practitioners says medical students are discouraged from becoming family doctors because of the low salary. ((CBC))

General practitioners in Quebec are demanding a wage increase. They say that would bring them closer in line with the province’s medical specialists and would make it easier for Quebecers to find a family doctor.

The doctors are involved in negotiations with the government as their contract is set to expire at the end of the month.

Unless the government improves salaries for physicians, the shortage of family doctors in the province will only get worse, the Quebec Federation of General Practitioners said on Tuesday.

Dr. Marc-André Asselin, 63, said his patients often ask him if he plans to retire soon.

"If the answer is no, then they say 'will you take care of my wife, my son, my uncle, or someone working with me?'," said Asselin.

And Asselin is not alone.

The province is short 1,100 doctors — 100 more than last year, said the federation.

In Quebec, 25 per cent of the population does not have a family doctor, compared to 8.8 per cent in Ontario, the federation said.

Students avoiding family medicine

Nearly half of the GPs in the province are older than 55 and will retire soon — and they will be difficult to replace, said the federation’s president Dr. Louis Godin.

Quebec GPs earn about $200,000 a year and still have to pay for their office space and staff, said Godin.

But, medical specialists in the province earn closer to $350,000 — and many medical students are taking notice, he said.

For the past few years some 200 spots in family medicine at the province’s four medical schools have gone unfilled, said Godin.

"For the young doctors who have to choose to be a specialist or GP, the remuneration, just only the remuneration, is a major factor," said Godin.

Quebec is also the only province that forces its GPs to spend time each week working in a hospital, he said.

Reducing the gap between GPs and medical specialists would cost $430 million, the federation said.

The group is asking the province to take action before the end of the month.