Doctors, nurses coming out of retirement to help New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response

There are close to 65,000 people without a family doctor in Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians. Getty Images

Physicians and nurses in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick are coming out of retirement to help with the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons says it’s set up a process that is “faster than a fast-track” for recently retired physicians wishing to step up and work on an emergency basis.

“Physicians as a whole are people that want to help, and there have been certainly more than a few phone calls and expressions of interest from the retired physician community to see if and how they might help out in the pandemic response,” said the college’s registrar and CEO, Dr. Gus Grant.

Grant estimates that about 150 physicians have retired in the last several years, although it’s not clear how many would be able to practice or are still in the province.

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Those who have retired the last two-and-a-half years are considered to have current skills and may be able to practice medicine under the direction of the Nova Scotia Health Authority or the IWK.

For those who have been retired longer, the college is exploring other ways they may be able to use their skills. Licensing fees are being waived.

“These are somewhat extraordinary times and we are doing everything we can to reduce and eliminate any administrative burden for physicians who wish to help out,” Grant said.

The college has also posted a message to physicians on its website, saying that provincial colleges across the country have reached a consensus to allow doctors who are not in their home province to be licensed there.

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“Physicians from other provinces wishing to support our local response can be licensed on an emergent basis immediately,” the message says.

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One retired Nova Scotia nurse has already completed their licensing, and 14 others have asked about the process.

In a press release, the Nova Scotia College of Nurses says it has also developed a rapid online licensing process for those who wish to return to practice for up to four months, and can enable nurses who are registered and licensed in other provinces to work in Nova Scotia.

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“In most cases, retired nurses and nurses working outside the province are safe and qualified to provide nursing services and we are doing our part to ensure they are able to enter the workforce as quickly as possible during this time of need,” said college CEO Sue Smith in the press release.

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Eligible nurses must have worked in Nova Scotia in the last five years without restrictions on their previous license and must be able to safely practice. Fees are being waived.

There are 2,276 RNs and 555 LPNs eligible to participate in the rapid licensing process, according to the college. A spokesperson says the college is reaching out to all of them Tuesday to share more information and support them in the next steps.

The New Brunswick Medical Society is fielding calls from retired members who are offering to help.

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Dr. Chris Goodyear, the medical society’s president, says they’re working with retired physicians to ensure they can get their credentials and licensing up to date and to limit the fees they’ll need to pay.

“These are physicians who have been in practice for many years and who have a great deal of experience, and they feel that they still have a role to play in what may need to be done in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Goodyear acknowledges that many older retired physicians may be vulnerable to COVID-19, which has proven to be particularly dangerous for older adults.

“They’re aware of that, and we certainly want to make sure that anybody that’s offering up their services (is) going to be aware of the circumstances they’re going to potentially be working in as well as the risks,” Dr. Goodyear said.

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“But these physicians are quite aware of that and we, along with them, will be taking every precaution to making that as safe as possible if they are needed.”

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