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Original article

Vol. 151 No. 3536 (2021)

Primary Care Physician Workforce 2020 to 2025 – a cross-sectional study for the Canton of Bern

  • Rahel Stierli
  • Zsofia Rozsnyai
  • Rainer Felber
  • Reto Jörg
  • Esther Kraft
  • Aristomenis K Exadaktylos
  • Sven Streit
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w30024


AIM OF THIS STUDY: The Swiss primary care sector faces a lack in its workforce and the Canton of Bern - the second largest canton (i.e. federal state) – is believed to be more affected than others. To be able to predict a shortage in the overall workforce, reliable numbers for the workforce of all general practitioners (GPs) and paediatricians (primary care physicians, PCPs) actively working in the Canton of Bern are needed. Switzerland has no registry of active PCPs; therefore, our goal was to (1) define the number and characteristics of all PCPs in the Canton of Bern, (2) to establish the workforce density for the whole canton and its administrative districts, and (3) to forecast the next five years with respect to the PCP workforce development.

METHODS: In this cross-sectional study, we contacted all potential PCPs of the Canton of Bern. We included all board-certified physicians in general internal medicine, paediatrics and physicians with the title “Praktischer Arzt (practical doctor)” with a professional license from the available registers (MedReg and the FMH register). All potential PCPs received a questionnaire to assess their involvement in the primary care setting, their personal characteristics including workload (current and in 5 years to allow us to estimate the projected workforce per projected population size in 2025), type of practice, administrative district, and additional questions on their acceptance of new patients and their perception of a shortage in their region. The data from non-responders were collected via follow-up letters, emails and phone calls. The density was calculated as full-time equivalent PCPs per 1000 inhabitants in total and per district.

RESULTS: From all potential PCPs (n = 2217), we identified 972  working in the Canton of Bern, 851 as GPs (88%) and 121 as paediatricians (12%). From these physicians, we had a response rate of 95%. The mean age was 53 years for GPs and 50 years for paediatricians. Thirteen percent of all PCPs were aged 65 or older. The average workload was 7.6 half-days (GPs) and 6.9 half-days (paediatricians). We found a density of 0.75 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.69–0.81) full-time equivalents per 1000 inhabitants for the total of the Canton of Bern, and a regional variability with densities between 0.59 to 0.93. Without new PCPs, the workforce density of PCPs will drop to 0.56 (95% CI 0.49–0.62) within the next 5 years.

CONCLUSION: This is the first study in which 95% of active PCPs participated and it demonstrated that within the next 5 years there will be a shortage in the workforce of PCPs that can only be improved by higher numbers of new domestic PCPs – even after accounting for the current inflow of foreign PCPs.


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