Bucking the national trend: More Dal med grads opting for careers in family medicine

- June 12, 2024

Fifty-two per cent of Dalhousie medical students graduating in 2024 chose to pursue family medicine in residency. (Provided photo)
Fifty-two per cent of Dalhousie medical students graduating in 2024 chose to pursue family medicine in residency. (Provided photo)

This year, students graduating from Dalhousie Medical School are opting for careers in family medicine in impressive numbers. 

Half of the graduating class will begin their residency training in family medicine this summer, marking a significant increase since 2018 when only 25 per cent of the class chose to enter a career path in family medicine.

Dalhousie’s Family Medicine program has also seen success, once again filling all available residency positions — a remarkable feat, especially considering the expansion of its residency seats from 70 in 2022 to 91 in 2024. 

While many programs nationwide face challenges in filling positions, this accomplishment is not merely fortuitous but rather the result of systematic changes implemented five years ago.

“By intentionally integrating family physicians as educators and role models in the undergraduate curriculum we aimed to shift perceptions,” says Dr. Kath Stringer, head of Family Medicine.

The path to success

In 2018, concern arose when the Faculty of Medicine graduating class witnessed only a 25 per cent match rate to family medicine. Recognizing the pivotal role of family medicine in health care, the Faculty of Medicine identified the need for deliberate and sustained efforts to elevate it as a career choice. 

The Family Medicine Project Charter was launched in response later that year, led by Dr. Jennifer Hall, family physician and then associate dean of Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. The goal: to achieve a 50 per cent match rate by 2023.

Under the guidance of the charter, initiatives were developed to boost exposure to family medicine across the Dalhousie medicine curriculum. Among them, the longitudinal family medicine clinical exposure experience was introduced for first-year medical students; a two-week rural rotation based largely in family medicine was created; enhanced Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC) opportunities were offered; and career nights were organized for medical students to explore career options within family medicine. 

Efforts were also made to acknowledge and reward the contributions of family medicine residents and faculty. Continuous feedback from students and tracking career choice data has informed subsequent strategies.

The results of the Charter’s efforts were promising. One year after its implementation in 2018, the match rate had climbed to 41 per cent. 

The pivotal role of family medicine

In 2023, the Faculty of Medicine formed a Family Medicine Specialty Committee to further advance this work.

The Family Medicine Specialty Committee led by Dr. Stringer and comprised of various leaders across the Faculty of Medicine, continues to identify and find solutions to the multifactorial barriers students face in choosing family medicine as a desired career. 

The Committee’s work is integral to the Faculty of Medicine’s strategic plan, Realizing Our Ambition, which affirms the university’s commitment to advancing family medicine education and recognizing family medicine as a specialty of choice.

These efforts are yielding significant results as this year’s matching numbers illustrate.

“The choice to pursue family medicine reflects our learners’ dedication to the field and embodies their profound understanding of the pivotal role family medicine plays in health care,” says Dr. David Anderson, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “I congratulate each of them on making this very important decision and want to express sincere gratitude to the dedicated staff and faculty who helped achieve this impressive accomplishment.”


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