2021-11-09T12:30:54-05:00Jun 26, 2020|

Family health 101: What newcomers should know

Canada has a universal healthcare system that is paid for through taxes. In other words, basic healthcare services are free for Canadian citizens, and permanent residents as those costs are covered by the taxes paid. Each province and territory has its own provincial or territorial health insurance plans to facilitate these healthcare services. 

Read: Healthcare in Canada: Basics for newcomers for information on obtaining your provincial insurance card and understanding more about Government health coverage and free medical services in Canada.

In this article, we’ll deep-dive into family health basics such as the process for finding a family doctor, tips to help you choose between a paediatrician and a family doctor for your kids, and recommendations for getting immunized and tracking your vaccinations in Canada.

Getting started with family health: Find a family doctor close to where you live

Many Canadians rely on a family doctor when they need medical care or need to do regular health checkups. Also known as a General Practitioner (GP), a family doctor addresses medical needs for you and your family and will also be the one to provide a referral if you need to see a specialist. 

How to get a family doctor in Canada

There are various ways to locate a family doctor:

  • Asking a friend, colleague, relative or acquaintance 
  • Contacting an immigrant-serving organization
  • Contacting a community health centre in your area
  • Checking the provincial websites for finding a family doctor
  • Use Lumino Health (by Sun Life) to find a family doctor, dentist, optometrist, or another health-care provider near you

Irrespective of where you’re based in Canada, you can check out Lumino Health – a a comprehensive, easy-to-use, and searchable database of dentists, optometrists, psychologists and family doctors. You can see information such as clinic hours, languages spoken, ratings and cost information for many types of health-care providers, making it easy to find the right care for your family.

Each province/territory has a dedicated website and a unique process to find a family doctor:


Generally, once you confirm the area where you would like to find a doctor, you will be put on a waitlist until a doctor who is accepting patients is identified. In some cases, the waiting period may extend into several months. During this time, if you need to see a doctor, you can go to a walk-in medical clinic. At walk-in clinics, you can usually see a doctor without an appointment. 

Here are a few things to consider while choosing a family doctor:

  • Waiting time for accepting new patients
  • Working hours and days – ensure it’s convenient for you and your family
  • Preference for male or female doctor
  • Languages spoken

Choosing between a family doctor or a paediatrician for your kids

Who is a paediatrician?

Paediatricians are doctors who specialize in babies, children and teenagers’ health. Many paediatricians specialize in specific areas: Paediatric cardiology (heart health), paediatric allergy, neonatology (who care for sick newborns or premature babies), and developmental paediatrics.

What is the difference between a pediatrician and a family doctor?

To help you decide between a paediatrician and a family doctor, here are some factors to consider:

Paediatrician Family Doctor
  • They train for four more years after med school to specialize in paediatrics.
  • Ideal for children with special needs or chronic conditions. 
  • Paediatricians will only treat babies, children or youth, not the entire family.
  • They are generalist med school graduates and can treat people at all life stages.
  • Ideal for common, less severe illnesses such as common cold, flu, sore throat, etc.
  • The same doctor can treat the entire family.
  • Their role differs based on where you live. For instance, in Alberta paediatricians do not give routine vaccinations.
  • As there are fewer than 3,000 practicing pediatricians in Canada, it might be difficult to find a paediatrician outside of major cities.
  • Their role is consistent irrespective of where you live and their services are holistic in nature, ranging from consultations to vaccinations and medical tests. 
  • It’s relatively easier to find a family doctor close to where you live.

Getting immunized and tracking your vaccination records

During your first appointment, your family doctor will inquire and document your medical history and assess your health needs. They may also prescribe vaccinations that are deemed essential for yourself and your family. 

What is an immunization record?

All children who attend school are required to receive certain vaccinations based on their age and the provincial vaccination schedule. These vaccines are usually administered free of charge and tracked in a document called an immunization record. 

The immunization record is required on various occasions, such as when you register your child for school or daycare, if your child needs emergency treatment or when you register your child for summer camp or other children’s programs.

Tip: You can keep track of all your vaccination records and find provincial vaccination schedules on CANImmunize. The app also provides access to information and resources about vaccinations from trusted Canadian health sources so you can make informed vaccination decisions for yourself and your family.

Whether it is the process of finding a doctor or figuring out relevant vaccinations for yourself and your family, as a newcomer in Canada, understanding basic healthcare processes can help you with a smooth transition to Canadian life.