N.B. creates ‘strings attached’ scholarship to address doctor shortage

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New scholarship fund in N.B. to address physician shortage
WATCH: In a bid to address the province-wide physician shortage, New Brunswick has rolled out a new scholarship fund. But as Global’s Robert Lothian reports, it comes with strings attached. – Apr 26, 2023

New Brunswick has rolled out a new scholarship fund to address the critical physician shortage, with the condition the recipient spends time practicing in the province.

In Rothesay, N.B. Wednesday morning, New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch announced $2.5 million for the scholarships, delivered through the New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation.

“If people train in New Brunswick, there’s a greater chance of them staying in New Brunswick,” said Fitch.

Through the fund, more than 60 students will benefit from the scholarships each year over the next five years, a news release stated.

Requirements ensure New Brunswick residents enrolled in any accredited Canadian program leading to a doctor of medicine degree can receive the scholarship.

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However, for each scholarship received, a student must spend at least one-year practicing medicine in New Brunswick.

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“Those scholarships will be offered through a return-of-service agreement, so we know there will be a few strings attached, but we as a province will benefit,” Fitch stated.

Dr. Michael Simon, a family doctor and the co-chair of the board of the New Brunswick Medical Foundation, noted the health sector faces a serious “hurdle” in staffing shortages.

“We simply don’t have enough physicians,” said Simon, who works alongside seven other family doctors. “We ask ourselves, because we’re getting to that point, who’s going to take care of our patients when we retire? Who’s going to take care of our practices?”

It’s estimated New Brunswick needs between 200 to 250 family doctors, in addition to the 2,

000 already working in the province.

Through the foundation, Simon said they ensure a “pipeline” of future New Brunswick doctors through the return-of-service agreement.

Simon added the structure of the agreement guarantees 60 years of medical service for each year of scholarships.

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When asked how the province will retain physicians after the one-year, Simon claimed the roots established in the community over that term will prevent them from leaving.

“More doctors will get time to put down those roots, they’ll stay longer, and once doctors get familiar, like surgeons, pediatricians, family doctors, they get accustomed to the community, like I say, their friends and family are here, they end up staying longer, for their careers,” Simon said.

The value of each scholarship will vary, Simon noted, but some could provide up to $10,000 directly to tuition.

“Some students come out with over 200,000 in debt, so these will certain help, but they don’t cover all of it.”

Scholarships established from the newly created fund are expected to be available beginning this year.

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