The Canadian Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Workforce in the Urban-Rural Continuum: Longitudinal Data from 2002 to 2013

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To evaluate the proportion of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery (OHNS) providers who are rural versus urban based from 2002 to 2013. Secondary objective was to present perspectives of rural primary care providers on unmet needs for OHNS services.

Study Design

Mixed methods database analysis and prospective survey.


National administrative database.

Subjects and Methods

The Canadian Medical Association OHNS provider Masterfile and the Statistics Canada postal code file were used to determine provincial, urban, rural, and Aboriginal group care coverage. The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada was surveyed to explore care delivery and unmet needs for OHNS and audiology. Descriptive statistics and linear regression were used to describe results.


Ontario and Quebec had the largest annual OHNS physician growth (6.38 providers/year; r2 = 0.94) versus stagnant growth in the territories. The clear majority of OHNS providers are in urban centers, and rural OHNS coverage is decreasing annually (–0.33 providers/year, r2 = 0.28). There are no OHNS providers in 485 population centers where Aboriginal groups are located. A survey of 40 rural primary care providers reported that OHNS care is most commonly delivered through seasonal visits to a local facility, with otology (hearing loss, chronic ear disease) and rhinology (nonmalignant nasal or sinus conditions) as the most frequently reported unmet needs.


From 2002 to 2013, OHNS coverage showed a trend for urban consolidation. Most Aboriginal groups may have decreased access to care, as there are no OHNS providers in 485 population centers where reserves are located. There is an unmet need for specialized OHNS services reported by rural primary care physicians, especially otology and rhinology.

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