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News Release - Experts Address Need for Anaesthesia Services in Rural Canada

Monday, July 27, 2020

 Rural and remote areas of Canada, including many Indigenous communities, are at risk of losing surgical and obstetric services because of a shortage of anesthesia care providers.  
This means that pregnant woman in some Canadian communities will need to travel hundreds of kilometres to larger urban centres to deliver their babies, say researchers. Many receive almost no assistance for meals, housing or support for their other children. 

Dr. C. Ruth Wilson, a family physician in Yellowknife and Professor Emerita in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University, and Dr. Beverley Orser,  the Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Toronto and an anesthesiologist in the Department of Anesthesia, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, believe a national strategy must be developed and applied to address the shortage of family physician anesthetists in rural Canada. 

Canadians living in rural areas comprise 18 per cent of the population but are served by only 8 per cent of physicians. This lack of services disproportionally affects remote Indigenous populations, which often have poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous populations. 

The specialty anesthesiology workforce comprises about 3,300 physicians, more than 13 per cent of whom are over the age of 65.  

Each year, 121 entry positions are available for specialty training in anesthesiology accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, but more positions are needed.  

Internationally trained specialists have filled some service gaps, but many international physicians struggle to obtain the national certification exam and provincial licensure. 

The creation of a national strategy for anesthesia services would be a major step forward toward ensuring that no pregnant mothers are forced to travel hundreds of kilometres from regional and rural health centres that that no longer provide robust maternal care programs. 

The article Canada Needs a National Strategy for Anesthesia Services in Rural and Remote Regions,  will be published  July 27 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). 



“Anesthesia relieves pain which would otherwise be intolerable. Canada needs a national strategy to ensure that everyone can access anesthesia care as close to home as possible. This is a particular challenge for rural and remote parts of our country.”  Dr. Ruth Wilson, family physician in Yellowknife and Professor Emerita in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University   

“We know that if a person lives in a rural or remote part of Canada, they have a higher chance of dying if they experience trauma or a major illness. Canadians living in rural and remote communities tend to have more health concerns and have poorer health outcomes, compared with those who live in cities. Rural and remote communities need more anesthesia care providers, and we wanted to identify solutions on how to improve address this gap and improve access to care.” Dr. Beverley Orser, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.  


Canada Needs a National Strategy for Anesthesia Services in Rural and Remote Regions 


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Media Contacts   
Julie Brown  

Media Relations Officer  



Gabrielle Giroday 

Media and Communications Specialist, University of Toronto 




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