The Physician Anesthesia Workforce in Canada From 1996 to 2018: A Longitudinal Analysis of Health Administrative Data

Anesth Analg. 2023 Dec 1;137(6):1128-1134. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000006650. Epub 2023 Nov 16.


Background: A robust anesthesia workforce is essential to the provision of safe surgical, obstetrical, and critical care but information describing the physician anesthesia workforce and volume of clinical services delivered in Canada is limited. This study examines the Canadian physician anesthesia workforce, exploring trends in physician characteristics and activity levels over time. Practice patterns of specialist anesthesiologists and family physician anesthetists (FPAs) working in urban and rural communities were of particular interest.

Methods: Physicians who provided anesthesia care between 1996 and 2018 were identified using health administrative data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). In addition, data from the Canadian Post-MD Education Registry (CAPER) were used to characterize physicians pursuing postgraduate anesthesia training (1996-2019). Descriptive analyses of physician demographics, training, location, specialty designations, and volume of clinical services were undertaken.

Results: Between 1996 and 2018, the anesthesia workforce grew 1.8-fold to 3681 physicians, including 536 FPAs. Over the same time, nerve block services increased 7-fold, and payments for other anesthesia services increased 5-fold. The average age of the anesthesiology workforce increased by 2.3 years and the annual retirement rate was 3%. The workforce has become more gender balanced but remains predominantly male (73% in 2018). The proportion of physicians who were trained internationally (about 30%; 38% in rural areas) remained stable (and higher than that in the overall physician workforce). FPAs provided most anesthesia care in rural Canada and their attrition rate was generally 2- to 3-fold higher than specialists. Physicians in the rural anesthesia workforce provided anesthesia services more intensively over time. Relatively few FPAs who left the anesthesia workforce entered full retirement and they instead contributed other medical services to their communities.

Conclusions: This study provides foundational information regarding anesthesia workforce capacity over a 22-year period, including insights into demographics, locations of practice, and clinical volumes. The results do not quantify the gap between service capacity and need; however, they support the need for a national workforce strategy to achieve equitable access to sustainable anesthesia services in Canada, particularly for rural communities.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia*
  • Anesthesiology*
  • Canada
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians*
  • Routinely Collected Health Data
  • Workforce