A new report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information said that the number of doctors in northwestern Ontario is higher per capita than in recent years, and is on the rise, despite the number of people who remain without a family doctor.

There are now 116 family doctors for every 100,000 people in the region and, this is largely attributed to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. According to the institute that number is 18 more doctors per capita than five years ago. The Canadian average is 106 doctors per 100,000 people.

"Because we've been recruiting students who come from northern Ontario and then providing the residency training in northern Ontario, more of those doctors are choosing to practice in Thunder Bay and the region," said Dr. Roger Strasser, the school’s dean.

Region's size dilutes patient benefits

However, there is still a gap that requires bridging, as there are people in the area who have difficulty finding a family doctor. The institute’s spokesperson Yvonne Roseheart said that the region’s size dilutes the benefit to patients.

"You also have some very rural areas, as well as some very geographically disperse areas, which means doctors have more ground to cover.  So, that is something that has to be taken in(to) consideration."

Strasser said that it could take up to two new graduates to service the patients of one retired doctor. According to him, it could be years to reverse the imbalance, however he expects the shortage to improve dramatically.

"By and large, when a longstanding family physician retires, the recently-graduated physicians are taking on less of a caseload than the physicians that they replace," said Strasser.

"And, this is really a reflection of changing trends in society generally, and certainly in the way that physicians are choosing to practice."