October 25, 2018 4:02 pm
Updated: October 26, 2018 10:00 am

Physician recruitment should concentrate on wages, work environment: Doctors N.S.

WATCH: Provincial staff members have returned from another trip to the U.K. for doctor recruitment efforts. Since February they have attracted 16 new doctors through the physician stream program. But as Alicia Draus reports, concerns are being raised that recruitment efforts do not go far enough.

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Representatives from the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration are back from their most recent trip to the U.K. in an effort to recruit doctors.

During the trip, which cost $19,889 not including flights and hotels, members participated in one-on-one meetings with 27 doctors from England and Ireland interested in coming to Nova Scotia. They also set up a booth and spoke with 170 physicians across all specialties at the British Medical Journals Career Fair.

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“Since we’ve launched the physician stream we are seeing success,” said Kim Jardine with the immigration office.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia announces new immigration stream to attract more doctors

The physician stream announced earlier this year reduces the red tape and paperwork for doctors who are qualified to work in Canada.

16 Doctors have been nominated and gone through the process since February.  Seven have already started working in Nova Scotia, while the others are slated to begin work sometime this fall with one scheduled to start in the new year.

Katie Meisner with NSHA said they are getting lots of interest from doctors about Nova Scotia.

“Physicians coming from the U.K. are looking more for a work-life balance. They don’t have that in their current position, and that’s a top priority for them,” she said.

Watch: NSHA looks to expand its doctor recruitment efforts to the international market

But here in Nova Scotia, that work-life balance is often cited as a challenge for retention.

“I hate to be negative but it’s really difficult to find a work-life balance here,” said Margaret Fraser, president of the Cape Breton Medical Staff. Fraser works as a family physician on the island and said that she essentially has the workload of two practices just herself.

President of Doctors Nova Scotia Tim Holland said that is all too common, especially for rural doctors.

“When you have fewer physicians in your community that means you have to take on more patients, you have to do more call,” he said.

“Physicians are struggling with work-life balance now so we need to see some real changes.”

Just this month, a psychiatrist in Cape Breton resigned from his position effective in January. Fraser said that is a hit to an already understaffed community.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia doctor calls family doctor shortage a ‘crisis

“We’re going to be down to 5 adult psychiatrists in a population of approximately 140,000,” she said.

“To put that into perspective, Halifax has a population of around 500,00 and they have 122 psychiatrists serving that population.”

According to Doctors Nova Scotia, to address the doctor shortage the province needs to recruit 1,000 new physicians over the next 10 years. Holland said that current recruitment efforts tend to focus on the lifestyle in Nova Scotia, but he said much more needs to be done.

“We need to work towards more competitive compensation and better work environment,” said Holland. He also noted that physicians in Nova Scotia are some of the lowest paid in the country and that needs to change in order to be competitive.

He said the province also needs to work at reducing red tape for physicians to help contribute to more of a work-life balance.

“Physicians deal with more and more paperwork. A family doctor can be doing two to four hours of paperwork unpaid every evening and that takes time away from the family,” said Holland.

The NSHA has set a target of recruiting 86 new family doctors between April 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019. As of Sept. 30 they had reached 30. Holland said it’s a start, but more needs to be done.

READ MORE: Doctors Nova Scotia demand ‘immediate action’ on physician shortages

“The recruitment issue is going to become even more severe as time goes by. More than half of our physicians in Nova Scotia are over 50 so that’s a looming retirement crisis.”

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