College of Family Physicians backs down on third year of training amid outcry

The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) says it has heard the concerns of doctors across the country who opposed plans for a third year of training, originally scheduled to start in 2027.

“We have ceased the implementation of the third year in family medicine residency training and will undertake a comprehensive review of this decision,” newly elected CFPC president Dr. Michael Green wrote in a statement.

He said the college would collaborate with its members, chapters and partners “to address current and future challenges in family medicine together.”

More than 91 per cent of the 2,775 physicians registered to vote at the CFPC’s annual membership meeting Nov. 1 approved a motion to “immediately cease the implementation of the third year in family practice program,” establish an independent review committee to present recommendations, and then decide what to do, based on evidence.

Dr. Paul Dhillon, a family physician from Sechelt, B.C., introduced the motion and three others calling for more transparency. He called the decision “a great first step.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing when and if they release the documents that led up to this decision,” he said.

Dr. Paul Dhillon’s motion calling on the College of Family Physicians of Canada to immediately cease plans to require a third year of training passed overwhelmingly at the annual members’ meeting on Nov. 1. Dhillon says he is happy the college is backing down on the change. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The college has said a mandated third year of training, starting in 2027, would prepare physicians to deal with more complex cases, including elder care, mental health and addictions and Indigenous health. An updated and “modernized” education would also help them work in multi-disciplinary teams with new technologies. 

“If we look forward 10, 15 years into the future, what are the new skills that family doctors are going to need?” Green said in an interview on Nov. 2, the day after the vote.

“I think we all want, in the end, what’s right for Canadians, which is a strong primary health-care system as our foundation, with experienced and well-trained family doctors.”

Becoming a family doctor in Canada is a 10-year process: Four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and two years of family medicine specialty training. Family doctors already have the option of adding a third year to focus training on a specific area of practice, and all physicians do continuing education throughout their careers.

At a time when one in five Canadians don’t have a family physician, there is concern an extra year of training would make the shortage even worse.

Physicians, medical students and residents have spoken out against the mandated third year of training, saying the college needs to provide evidence it would provide better outcomes to patients and make their practices more sustainable.

Provincial health ministers were also “unanimous” at their October meeting in Charlottetown that the residency should stay at two years, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters after the meeting.

A man smiles in a medical room.
Yash Verma, a first-year medical student at the University of Toronto, is part of the first cohort of students that would have been impacted by an additional year of family medicine training. (Alexis Raymon/CBC)

Yash Verma, a first-year medical student at the University of Toronto, said he and many of his classmates are happy with the decision to halt the third year. Theirs is the first cohort that would have been impacted by the longer residency.

“It really goes to show the power we have as a group to collectively enact change,” he said of the advocacy and lobbying efforts.

“I’m optimistic about the future of family medicine.”

The college will organize town hall meetings and meet with provincial health ministers, the Canadian Medical Association, the Society of Rural Physicians, university programs and other groups to hear their concerns, Green said.

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