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How much do family physicians make in Canada?

A casually-dressed woman seated at a table stares up from her book thoughtfully

Net income among physicians varies widely. Figures in this article are based on data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (October 2021), and represent average gross clinical income before overhead, taxes and other expenses.

In Canada, about half of all physicians work in family medicine. The College of Family Physicians of Canada calls them family physicians, but they can also be referred to as family doctors, general practitioners (GPs) or primary care physicians.1

Family physicians have an average annual income of $331,615.

 A chart showing the average annual gross income of family physicians in each province in Canada.

Physician earnings are reported as gross income

Whenever you see incomes for doctors published, it is always the gross income (also called gross clinical payment). This is the amount that the government pays the physician — not what the physician takes home. Self-employed physicians still need to pay their overhead expenses, such as rent, staff salaries, equipment and insurance; and their income tax.

The vast majority of family physicians are self-employed and have these overhead costs. There’s no reliable data on an average amount — overhead costs vary widely, depending on the practice itself and the jurisdiction. However, as a percentage of gross clinical income, the average overhead costs for family physicians is 30%.2

The income after overhead is the physician’s net clinical revenue, from which they will pay personal income tax, and/or corporate tax if they are incorporated.

Note that the average incomes in this article are for a “full-time equivalent” physician. This metric allows the earnings of part-time physicians to be counted in, on a pro rata basis.

How long is family medicine residency?

Residency for family medicine is currently two years, and some family medicine physicians supplement their training with an extra year in a specialized area, such as emergency medicine, palliative care, sports and exercise medicine, or addictions medicine.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada is working on a project that may result in a longer training period. In comparison, medical and surgical specialty residencies generally range from four to six years.

As you can see below, family medicine doctors in Canada earn less on average than medical and surgical specialists.

Average gross annual income comparison

Family physicians

$331,615

Medical specialists

$404,328

Surgical specialists

$573,586

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Family physician income by province

The figures below are from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, published in October 2021 and based on 2019–2020 data.3

Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are not included in the averages because there were not enough data.

Gross annual income for family physicians by province

Province

Annual income

Alberta

$393,248

Quebec

$369,185

Manitoba

$364,825

New Brunswick

$341,161

Saskatchewan

$322,026

Prince Edward Island

$317,968

Nova Scotia

$312,420

British Columbia

$308,399

Ontario

$303,656

Newfoundland and Labrador

$290,388

Average

$331,615

 

How are family doctors paid?

Physicians in Canada are compensated through a variety of payment methods. The main one is “fee for service,” where the physician bills their provincial ministry of health a specified amount for each type of visit or procedure.

There are also alternative payment plans, where the province pays physicians using other models (or combinations of models) including the following:

  • Salary: fixed annual sum paid by an employer; typically seen in academia, administration, research or a hospital setting
  • Sessional fees: per hour or per day, regardless of the number of patients; typically used in hospital emergency departments, psychiatry clinics and clinics in rural areas
  • Capitation payments: per patient for annual care, with the amount adjusted for age, patient complexity, etc.
  • Block funding: funding to practice plans or groups, in which physicians have a range of responsibilities, including clinical service, teaching, research and administration

The provincial governments in Canada are primarily responsible for financing and delivering healthcare services. The federal government contributes about 24% through transfer payments to the provinces.4

Changes in compensation are negotiated between the provincial medical association and its respective provincial government. The predominant compensation model in family medicine is still fee for service, but it is more prevalent in the western provinces than in the eastern ones.

1 Family physician” is the preferred term for those who completed their two-year residency after 1993, while those who trained before that may call themselves “general practitioners.” Prior to 1993, training in family medicine could be a one-year rotating general practice internship or a two-year residency. The rotating internship was eliminated in 1993 when the mandatory two-year residency program was introduced.

2 Canadian Medical Association Physician Workforce Survey (Practice Management), Q16, 2017.

3 To find this information, go to https://www.cihi.ca/en/physicians-in-canada. Scroll down to “National Physician Database” and download “Data tables (ZIP).” Go to the file titled “NPDB-historical-payments-data-tables-1999-2019-en-web.xlsx,” and see Table D2 (“Average payments”). Click row 3 (“Type of average payment”) and select “Average gross clinical payment per full-time-equivalent physician” from the drop-down menu.

4 Sonya Norris, “Federal Funding for Health Care,” Library of Parliament Research Publications, rev. December 29, 2020.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.