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Navigating the World of Insurance

Insurance—it’s a complicated subject that most medical students and residents leave on the back burner during training. However, there are many different types of insurance to consider as you make the transition to becoming a staff physician.

Depending on your specific situation, here is a list of the most common types of insurance purchased by physicians:

    1. Disability Insurance
      If you were a resident physician in Alberta, the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA) automatically provided Group Disability Insurance that was based on your salary as a resident. However, this benefit expires once you have completed your training, unless you submit an application to convert your existing PARA coverage to a disability insurance plan with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA). Note that conversion packages are normally emailed out to residents near the end of training since the conversion application must be submitted before the end of your residency contract in order to ensure continuous coverage. However, you have up to 60 days following the end of your contract to apply. More information can be found here.

      There are numerous add-ons to consider such as the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that adjusts your disability benefit based on inflation, and the Guaranteed Insurability Benefit (GIB) that gives you the option of increasing your coverage annually without proof of good health. Add-ons do result in extra cost, but depending on your situation, may be helpful so it is a good idea to discuss this with your insurance provider. Of note: If you are planning on moving and practicing outside of Alberta, it is still possible to convert your PARA insurance to a plan with the AMA, as long as you maintain your membership with the AMA (for a yearly fee).

      As your income increases, you may want to re-evaluate the amount of disability insurance coverage you have purchased.

    2. Term Life Insurance
      As an Alberta resident physician, PARA provided limited life insurance automatically to all residents. Similar to disability insurance, you can convert the PARA policy for life insurance to an AMA policy upon graduation. The application form is the same. Adjustments can be made to the amount of coverage, which will depend on your specific situation.
    3. Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance
      Again, PARA provided this insurance automatically to all Alberta resident physicians. However, there is no option to convert to an AMA plan after graduation. If you choose to incorporate this type of insurance into your portfolio, you will need to purchase this separately.
    4. Critical Illness Insurance
      This coverage is optional, but provides a one-time lump sum payment in the event you are diagnosed with a critical illness as defined by the particular policy you are considering. There is usually a specific survival period that must be exceeded before the payment is given out and this will vary based on the insurance company you are dealing with.
    5. Professional Overhead Expense Insurance (POE)
      This type of insurance is relevant to physicians who are joining a practice permanently or purchasing a clinic where you may be incurring regular business-related costs. In the event you are unable to work, POE insurance comes into effect to help cover the cost of rent/mortgage, electricity and water bills, employee salaries, etc. If you are a locum physician, POE insurance is generally unnecessary.
    6. Travel Medical Insurance
      Health and wellness is important for physician longevity but, before you step outside of Canada, be sure to consider your options for travel medical insurance. This may have been included under your medical benefits as a resident (in Alberta, this was covered by Alberta Blue Cross), but it is no longer available after completing training. There are many credit cards that now provide travel medical insurance, but another option would be to purchase travel medical insurance separately through another provider. At the very least, your coverage should encompass the duration of travel and you may consider adding extra days in case of delays.

Some additional items to consider as you navigate the insurance world are:

    1. Update your beneficiary
      This may change depending on your life situation (e.g. marriage, divorce).
    2. Readdress your coverage after major life events
      For example, you may want to consider increasing your life insurance if you purchase a new home or have a child.

Insurance may seem like another item to add to the stress of transitioning to practice but, once it is set up, it can provide you with added reassurance that you are helping to protect what is most valuable to you.

About the Author

Dr. Michelle Chow is a family physician and NAMS certified menopause practitioner in Calgary, Alberta. She has an urban general practice with a special interest in women’s health, and also practices low risk obstetrics.

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