Thomson: Be thankful for our health care heroes

For a lot of families, there is an unsung hero at work. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call her Florence.

When a family member was fighting through an injury or illness, Florence was there, providing advice and care.

Florence was there to examine symptoms, and prescribe the appropriate medication. Florence also had happier responsibilities—giving a clean bill of health after a regular checkup, or even having the privilege of being the first to confirm a pregnancy.

Florence is a family doctor. She’s a fictitious example (named after Florence Nightingale, naturally), but it’s easy to imagine her as one of the hundreds of family doctors working in Kelowna and the Okanagan.

Family physicians are the front line of health care.

Each and every day in B.C., family doctors provide not only primary medical care, but also a substantial portion of secondary and tertiary care in many communities.

They work from their offices as well as hospitals, their patients’ homes, nursing homes, and other community facilities.

Public surveys repeatedly show that Canadians hold family doctors in high regard.

That regard is well deserved; in addition to patient care, family doctors are involved in teaching students and residents in our 17 Canadian medical schools, and in conducting research that is a valuable contribution to the practice of family medicine.

That’s why last week was Family Doctor Week in Canada. Family Doctor Week acknowledges the outstanding contributions physicians make to their patients’ lives, and their dedication to delivering high-quality health care, day in and day out.

In B.C., we’ve worked hard to ensure there are enough family physicians to meet growing population and demand.

Between 2001-02 and 2010-11, the number of physicians billing in B.C. increased from 8,234 to 10,121—or 23 per cent.

In the same period of time, the population grew by 11.2 per cent.

We’ve managed to accomplish this through a mix of training and attracting new doctors.

For example, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, between 2006 and 2010, British Columbia has had the highest in-migration of physicians in the country, with over 320 physicians moving here from other provinces.

We are the only province to consistently attract physicians.

We’ve also doubled the number of first year undergraduate spaces for medical students, from 128 in 2003-04 to 256 in 2011-12.

The opening of the Southern Medical Program will add a further 32 spaces for a total of 288 graduating medical students each year by 2014-15.

A fourth medical program located in the Interior began in September 2011; medical students arrived on campus at UBC Okanagan in January 2012.

Much attention is given to emergency health care services and providers—and rightly so.

But it’s important to remember those on the front lines, who provide day-to-day care and advice.

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