When Colby Walsh moved to the Okanagan from Alberta nearly two years ago, she had a hard time finding a family doctor amid the severe shortage of physicians in the province.
“It took me a year to get one,” the West Kelowna woman said.
“I had to ask my boyfriend to see if we can his parent’s doctor…I’m very blessed, very thankful.”
Walsh’s family physician is Dr. Toye Oyelese, who owns the Westside Medical Associates clinic.
Oyelese is a Nigerian-trained doctor.
In fact, all but one of the 11 doctors working at his West Kelowna clinic have been trained outside of Canada, recruited by Oyelese himself.
“One of the things sometimes that people may not realize is that foreign-trained physicians are just as good as Canadian-trained physicians, and could be a very important resource to this country,” he told Global News.
They’re a potential resource that was front and centre this past weekend as B.C.’s newly sworn-in premier announced an expansion to the Practice Ready Assessment Program.
“We are taking action to get internationally-trained doctors off the sidelines and into clinics where they are so desperately needed,” said Premier David Eby on Sunday.
The expansion will triple the number of government-sponsored spots from 32 to 96 over the next 16 months, which will pave the way for a lot more doctors trained outside of Canada to practice in the province.
“That will make it easier for family physicians trained internationally to be licensed to practice in British Columbia,” Eby said.
The program will place the physicians in rural and urban communities, where physicians are badly needed.
The program will require the doctors to work that placement for at least three years.
Oyelese calls the move a step in the right direction.
“I think that government is trying, we have to give them credit,” he told Global News.
But Oyelese added the plan fails to address something very important–retention.
“They have to consider the problem of retention, because it’s okay to recruit people here and it’s okay to have them on contract for three years, but you have to make it reasonable, otherwise, what you’re going to find is after the three years, the obligated three-year period, people are just going leave and we’re still going be stuck with the same problem.”
Oyelese said making it reasonable for doctors to stay in family practice includes funding some of the critical health infrastructure and huge overhead doctors are responsible for.
Oyelese said until that happens, retaining family physicians will be challenging.
“In family medicine…a family medical clinic like mine, critical health care infrastructure…I pay for it 100 per cent, “Oyelese said.
“It would be like having the teachers have to pay for the schools out of the money that they get from teaching the kids or having the firefighters having to pay for the firehall and fire equipment out of the money that they get from fighting fires.”
While there’s still a lot to remedy, Oyelese said he’s pleased the government is finally addressing the family doctor crisis.
“I think that government is trying, we got to give them credit….we’re cautiously optimistic, and we want to see what the future holds and there’s a sense of hope,” Oyelese said.
“This is barely scratching the surface. There’s still a lot that has to happen before the health-care system comes out of a crisis and I think it’s just very important that government realize that and also very important the public realizes that as well.”