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Can J Rural Med. 2006 Summer;11(3):207-17.

Rural surgical services in two Canadian provinces.

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Rural Family Physician, Gibsons, BC.



Contrast alternative health delivery systems and the use of differently trained physician providers in the supply of surgical services to rural residents in 2 Canadian provinces.


Four surgical procedures (carpal tunnel release, inguinal herniorrhaphy, appendectomy and cholecystectomy) provided to rural residents of Alberta and Northern Ontario were identified between 1997/98 and 2001/02. Surgical staff were identified as specialists or non-specialists. Rural populations were mapped into the catchment areas of rural acute care facilities. Rural surgical programs were characterized by the level of surgical service available locally.


Alberta and Northern Ontario have a similar number of rural surgical programs staffed by Canadian-certified general surgeons (10 and 12, respectively). However, Alberta has 27 smaller rural surgical programs staffed by non-specialist surgeons and Northern Ontario has only 4. These non-specialist surgeons play a significant role in Alberta, often in collaboration with specialist surgeons. In Northern Ontario the non-specialist surgeons play a minor role. The small rural surgical programs in Northern Ontario that are staffed by specialist surgeons are significantly more successful in retaining the local surgical caseload compared with similar programs in Alberta.


The principal differences between Alberta and Northern Ontario in the delivery of rural surgical services are the greater number of small rural surgical programs in Alberta, and the substantial role of non-specialist surgical staff in these programs.

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