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Canadian family doctors have voted to suspend a plan that would lengthen the residency period for their discipline by a year, but it’s too early to say whether the college that sets training standards for the profession will heed the non-binding advice of its member physicians.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada held an annual meeting of members Wednesday night that included a motion from a British Columbia doctor calling on the CFPC to pause a controversial proposal to increase family medicine residency to three years from two, beginning no earlier than 2027.

Courtny Vaz, a spokeswoman for the CFPC, confirmed the motion was approved at a virtual meeting that was closed to the public, but she did not provide a vote tally.

Paul Dhillon, the physician who proposed the motion, told The Globe and Mail that 2,500 doctors – just over 91 per cent of the 2,775 who cast electronic ballots – voted in favour of suspending the three-year residency plan.

The CFPC represents approximately 42,000 members, which means that about 6.6 per cent of eligible family doctors voted.

“I hope that the college understands that members across the country, and every organization that has weighed in on this, is against this plan and feels that it’s bad for family medicine,” Dr. Dhillon said. “I hope that hearing the voices and seeing the numbers, they will realize they need to change the track that they’re on.”

In an interview before the meeting, CFPC President Mike Green said the college believed it needed to lengthen residency to make room for extra training in a variety of areas, including long-term care, home care, virtual care, mental health care, health equity and training on new technologies, including artificial intelligence.

Opponents of a three-year residency fear it will turn medical-school graduates off of family medicine, exacerbating a national shortage of primary care. Federal, provincial and territorial health ministers are against the plan, as are organizations representing Canadian medical students, resident doctors and rural physicians.

Dr. Green said before the meeting that Dr. Dhillon’s motion was not binding on the CFPC board, meaning the plan may still proceed.

The CFPC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.

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