DM Blog

Finding a Family Doctor in Canada


If you’ve ever tried finding a family doctor in Canada you’ll probably agree that Canadian healthcare sucks. Sure, free public healthcare sounds great and all, but what’s the point of free healthcare if it’s impossible to access?

For ten years now, I’ve been actively trying to find a family doctor, to no success.

Just recently, while I was living in Calgary, alberta, I was being turned down by doctors left and right. Not all doctors are accepting new patients all the time, so first you have to find the ones that are – and they’re very scarce. However, when I finally did find a family doctor that was accepting new patients, I was still getting turned down…

It always started with the doctor asking a couple "background questions" followed by "I’m unable to take any new patients with that condition/background/history." So basically, unless you’re perfectly healthy and don’t need a doctor, you’re out of luck!

I kept getting turned down by family doctors in Alberta and it didn’t seem right to me so I contacted the province to see what they had to say about it. I figured They’d be able to help me or at least point me in the right direction but the response I got was quite a shock to me. They explained to me that each family doctor sets up their own corporation and since it’s their own "business", they determine by themselves how to best run their business; the province cannot tell them how to run their business, nor force them to take any "type" of patient… Seriously? Wow. It seemed like discrimination to me, but I was assured that it wasn’t. Apart from wishing me better luck in the future and pointing me to their list of family doctors that were accepting new patients online, (which I was already using), they said there wasn’t much the province could do for me, and that was quite a shock to me. This is what my tax dollars are being spent for?

Even when I lied to receptionists and pretended not to have any medical history, the farthest I ever got was getting a first appointment with a doctor, which ended abruptly with the doctor telling me he couldn’t take me on as a patient. I remember asking the doctor how he could ethically turn me down if he thought I could die from this and he responded by asking me to leave! Yes, this is the Canadian healthcare system!

So while in Calgary, I decided to turn to a walk-in clinic and try to get help that way. I went in with three symptoms which I thought could possibly be related to each other and after waiting more than six hours at the clinic, when I finally got to see the doctor, I was blown off once again. The doctor explained to me that there was a long line-up of people waiting so she could only deal with one issue at a time; to be fair to everyone else, I’d have to wait another six hours again for each additional issue. At the same time, however, she explained to me that walk-in clinics are not equipped to deal with the gravity of my issues and since they could potentially be life-threating and/or terminal illnesses which would require many follow-up visits and possibly long-term care, I would have to find a family doctor to deal with. When I explained to her that I was unable to find a family doctor that would take me, she repeated the same thing to me – I can’t help you here. I didn’t leave empty handed though, I remember she gave me a free sample of acne cream to put on my nose – and when I got home, I discovered the cream had already expired… Lovely.

After all that rejection, I stopped looking for a family doctor for a while and decided just to ignore my health for a while. I wasn’t dying anyways.

But it’s not just Alberta either. Earlier this year I moved back to Toronto, Ontario and I recently had a similar experience looking for a family doctor here. I’ve been having problems with my left foot so I thought I should try my luck at finding a family doctor here in Toronto.

A couple weeks ago, I spent almost four hours on the phone one morning trying to find a family doctor to no success. I decided to try my luck in person instead so I made a list of buildings that seemed to have a lot of doctor’s offices in them and then limped my way on a sore foot through downtown Toronto to find a doctor. It took a lot of work and some cunning moves on my part, but I was finally able to find a receptionist that would book me an appointment. (It shouldn’t be that hard, no?) There was no way I could get a same-day appointment though, so after booking the next available appointment a-week-and-a-half away, I asked the receptionist if she knew of a walk-in clinic close by so I could get my foot looked at.

At the walk-in clinic, I was surprised that it was only a two hour wait. When I was taken from the waiting room to the doctor’s office in the back, the nurse asked me what I was there for. Curious to see how she’d respond, I told her that I was there for a general check up, to which she responded "we can’t do that here, you’ll need to get a family doctor for that." Anyways, I told her I was really there for my foot.

When I finally saw the doctor, she was super quick and it felt very rushed, but at the same time, I have to give her credit for not turning me away and for being very thorough. She asked me a couple questions about my medical history and after looking at my foot, she ordered x-rays, ultrasounds and blood tests and then she introduced me to another doctor there while explaining that she would be away the following week when my results came back. Wow. Apart from the fact that she laughed at me and made me feel stupid for asking where the door was to get out so I could go get my x-rays done, and apart from the fact that the visit felt super rushed, it was definitely the best experience I’ve had with a doctor in a very long time.

At this point, I wasn’t sure whether to tell the walk-in clinic that I had set up an appointment with a family doctor already, but I decided that I should visit the family doctor first and be absolutely sure she would even be taking me on as a patient, given the experiences I’ve had in the past.

A week and a half later it was finally time for my first appointment with my potential family doctor but the whole thing seemed too good to be true and I was still a bit skeptical. It took an hour past my scheduled appointment time before I was moved from the waiting room to the doctor’s office and then another half hour before the doctor came in. What’s the point of an appointment again? When she finally did see me, after asking me two or three questions about my medical history she explained to me that there were a lot of people waiting to see her and she only had five to ten minutes booked for my appointment, which was to get my medical history entered into the computer. If I had any medical issues that needed attention, I would have to make another appointment for the following week. Seriously?! that’s what I waited a week and a half for? And then an hour and a half wait past my appointment time for just five minutes with the doctor?

To her credit, she never did tell me that she couldn’t take me on as a patient. But when I told her about my past experiences trying to find a family doctor she told me that she doesn’t take old/senior patients anymore because they have too many issues and require too much care, but, she proceeded to explain that the laws in Ontario are different from Alberta so she has to be "careful" about how she turns them away. It didn’t take long to realize that she was just being "careful" in how she turned me away, without actually coming out and saying so… Tactful.

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed and the excitement of actually having a family doctor was very short-lived. The problem was that my foot kept getting worse and whether I wanted to or not, I had to follow through with my foot issues since it was getting to the point that even just standing was causing me excruciating pain. So that same afternoon I decided to go back to the walk-in clinic since I was close by and see if my follow-up appointment could be moved a day earlier to that same afternoon. Though I couldn’t reschedule my appointment since the clinic has a policy against scheduling same-day appointments, I was invited to wait as a regular walk-in patient (about 90 minutes that day) to get my test results and see the doctor.

This was then my second visit to this walk-in clinic, and by far the best interaction I’ve ever had with a doctor in my life. So after spending more than 30 minutes with the doctor (which turned out to be only halfway through my visit) I jokingly asked him if he was a family doctor as well and if he was accepting new patients. After only a brief hesitation, he agreed to take me on as a patient and gave me his card with "new patient" scribbled on the back which he told me to give to the staff at the front desk and They’d get me signed up.

So after literally ten years of looking for a family doctor, it seems I finally found one, maybe out of pity, but whatever the reason, I was feeling pretty lucky. he’s a very good doctor too.

When I handed the card to the staff at the front, the nurse/receptionist loudly exclaimed "Congratulations! You just won the lottery! You now have a family doctor!" and that’s pretty much how I was feeling too. "You have no idea" I told him, to which he responded "No, I can see it in your face and nowadays it’s almost impossible to find a family doctor too. You just won the lottery!"

So yes, some good news at a time when good news seems to be very rare for me, but at the same time, I can’t help but thinking that finding a family doctor shouldn’t be like winning the lottery. Is this what our healthcare system has become?