It wasn’t long ago that many rural and remote Alberta communities were facing a health care crisis.
In the early ‘90s, the number of physicians practicing in rural Alberta was dwindling. An inability to attract new doctors placed a strain on many rural and remote Alberta communities, who depended on their family physicians to survive and thrive. In desperate need of a plan to attract and retain rural physicians, the province created a working group, who developed 16 initiatives to influence physicians’ decisions about moving to, and remaining in rural Alberta. Launched a quarter-century ago, these 16 recommendations would come to be known as the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP).
Since 1992, RPAP served effectively as a collaborative partner and trusted advocate for rural Alberta communities trying to achieve greater access to health care. Rural Albertans have benefited from RPAP initiatives, such as medical education programming for present and future rural physicians, and physician attraction and retention committee support. During this time, RPAP has grown in scope, and stepped into areas where there was a need, collaborating with Alberta universities to encourage rural medical practice amongst medical students and resident physicians. RPAP is now recognized as an innovator and leader across Canada in the attraction and retention of physicians to rural areas.
Although the physician distribution issues of the early ‘90s haven’t disappeared completely, we’ve made great strides to address physician attraction and retention in rural Alberta. Recognizing our success, the Ministry of Health has asked that we expand our mandate to meet the broader health workforce requirements of rural, remote, and indigenous communities. Stepping away from our role in rural family medicine education, we have been asked to provide support services beyond physicians to other health professions, including nurses and nurse practitioners, occupational and physical therapists, midwives, and paramedics.
In recognition of our evolving to meet the changing needs of a multidisciplinary approach. we have changed our name to Rural Health Professions Action Plan, or RhPAP. A renewed RhPAP will offer enhanced support to rural Alberta communities, supporting their efforts to attract, retain, and educate a broad range of health care professions. We will continue to recognize rural healthcare heroes, and we will be a strong voice for rural health issues in Alberta.
While our scope is expanding, and our name is changing, our efforts will remain firmly focused in, and for, rural Alberta, as they always have.