The Impact of the Feminization of the Primary Care Workforce on Service Delivery

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Lindsay Hedden, PhD Candidate
CIHR Fellow in Primary Health Care, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

There is widespread sentiment that British Columbia either has, or will have, a shortage of physicians, particularly in primary health care (PHC). An alleged contributor to this physician shortage is the fact that female physicians represent a growing proportion of all practitioners and they, on average, work fewer hours and deliver fewer services than their male counterparts, thus reducing effective service supply. If this continues to be true, more physicians will be needed in order to maintain current supply. Absent any change to this evidence vacuum, health human resources planning decisions for primary care may be based on an overly simplistic calculus of physician headcounts, failing to account for differences in activity and practice patterns. Forecasting models should ideally embody changes in workforce dynamics – including feminization and its impacts – to better predict future primary care physician (PCP) supply.

This, the purpose of this set of studies is to comprehensively assess the impact of the feminization of British Columbia’s PCP workforce – focusing specifically on career trajectories, activity, practice patterns and scopes of practice – relative to that of other trends in workforce demographics and activity patterns.

The four study objectives are

  • Objective 1: To determine differences in the activity levels over career trajectories between male and female PCPs and to estimate the resulting differences in productive years of clinical practice.
  • Objective 2: To determine the impact of parental leave(s) and retirement patterns on service supply.
  • Objective 3: To determine differences in the characteristics of patient populations seen by male compared to female PCPs.
  • Objective 4: To quantify the potential impact of the feminization of the primary care workforce relative to other demographic changes to the workforce, and shifts in activity patterns.

This study will rely on administrative data sources obtained through Population Data BC, including the Medical Services Plan (MSP) Client Registry; MSP Claims Database; College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (CPSBC) Registry; and Alternative Payments.