On Thursday, Prince Edward County mayor and councillors heard an update concerning an impending family doctor shortage in the region as many local family doctors reach retirement age.
Dr. Anne Nancekievill, of the Prince Edward Family Health Team, and Adam Hambly, of County Docs physician recruitment and retention program, made the presentation and explained the “perfect storm” that county primary medical care is facing.
Three local physicians are planning to retire this year, adding to the five departures of the previous year stacked up against an increasing median age in the county (and associated increased demand for care). This is compounded by the small number of new graduating doctors willing to work in rural locales, who belong to a diminishing number of those wanting to commit to family medicine in Canada, Nancekievill and Hambly explained. Currently, there are 2,572 family doctor vacancies in Canada, a large number compared to the the national total of 1,451 graduates from last year.
Though both where complimentary about the effects of the $100,000 over five year sign-on bonus, as well as the structured recruitment program, there are still significant barriers to address, compared to other municipalities, including: a lack of affordable or attainable housing; the perception that the county is a retirement community (as in a perceived lack of social and romantic opportunities); and a lack of competitive office space options (with some jurisdictions offering more modern and/or reduced rent facilities).
Given these barriers, and coupled with fierce competition from other medical programs (some of them very well-funded and/or well established), Nancekievill and Hambly concluded that it could take years to bring the county back to “a full complement of physicians.”
Nancekievill and Hambly added that increasing the sign-on bonus to attract doctors would only amount to a bidding war between larger and more funded jurisdictions, and that the county should focus on more qualitative attractors. Listen to their reasoning, in response to Hillier Coun. Chris Braney's query, here:
But the news was not entirely negative, as they reported a one-year temporary replacement for a departed physician and a new full time permanent family doctor coming later this fall, pending regulatory approval.
County council, prior to accepting County Docs funding request for $250,000—an increase of $100,000 from last year's initial funding amount to strengthen the program while keeping the sign-on bonus the same—also passed a recommendation to form a working group.
In conjunction with County Docs, the group will work towards longer-term planning goals, critical infrastructure goals, and provincial advocacy support to address the barriers standing in the way of a full family doctor compliment in the county. More specifically, the working group will examine the feasibility of tuition support for home grown medical students, housing/office space initiatives, and a nurse practitioner program.
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