EDMONTON -- A new $6-million investment will be used over three years to support getting more new doctors to practice medicine in rural communities through the Rural Health Profession Action Plan (RhPAP).

Funding will help support the studies of Alberta medical students. In order to receive funding, medical students will need to complete residency training in rural Alberta and agree to practise medicine post-graduation in an Alberta rural community.

The government announced the funding Saturday in a news release.

“We are pleased for this new program to get off the ground to get more doctors working in rural areas,” Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said.

The provincial government told CTV News that generally any community under 15,000 outside of metro Edmonton or Calgary is considered rural as per RhPAP. 

Established as a non-profit organization in 1991 by the province, RhPAP tries to achieve greater rural access to health care in Alberta. It focuses on attracting, retaining, and supporting rural physicians in Alberta.

RhPAP will develop further program details after consultation, which will be announced at a later date.

Alberta Medical Association (AMA) president Dr. Paul Boucher and president of the rural medicine section of the AMA Dr. Samantha Myhr said in a joint statement that the funding will help increase the number of future physicians in rural communities.

“We are pleased that the government is taking steps to focus on the needs of rural health care.

“Physicians look forward to collaborating on further initiatives in the future. Involving medical students (and resident physicians) in both the planning and implementation of physician resource strategies will be essential.”

According to the province, 72 per cent of rural family medicine program graduates from the University of Alberta and 66 per cent from the University of Calgary are practising medicine in rural communities.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information says Alberta had about 800 rural physicians as of 2019.

With files from CTV News Calgary’s Michael Franklin