Ontario rural communities struggle to recruit family physicians

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Rural communities struggle to recruit family physicians
WATCH: The search to replace a retired family doctor in Verona began in 2016, and the hunt continues. – Jun 2, 2023

There is no end of examples of how difficult it is to attract family physicians to rural communities.

Eighty-year-old Dr. Peter Bell continues to work full time in Sharbot Lake, hoping his replacement will eventually be found. Over in Verona, Dr. Sabra Gibbens is that town’s only family physician. The hunt for a second family doctor for her practice began in 2016.

And in the nearby village of the Sydenham, north of Kingston, the medical clinic is fully staffed for now. One such staff member is Dr. Jeanette Dietrich

“My two colleagues are a little older than I am and looking at retirement in the short- to mid-term future,” she said, “so we would need a couple more to replace them.”

Member of the Sharbot Lake family health team Deborah Krause says the fear is the loss of any more family physicians in Frontenac County as well as neighbouring Lennox and Addington county could have a serious impact on rural clinics and the patients who rely on them.

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“We can’t afford to lose a single one. If you lose a couple of doctors you risk losing a clinic,” Krause said.

But there is a possible ray of hope. The two women went on a recruitment mission recently, attending the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada conference in Niagara Falls. Dr. Dietrich says with the support of local governments, there was interest among medical students, those in residency and doctors along with incentives from area businesses to test the waters here.

“Part of the draw that we handed out was like a stay in a yurt, canoeing rental for the day, a golf course for the day, golf cart as well, to bring those people back to do those experiential things so they have a reason to come and visit and meet us and see what we have to offer,” Dietrich said.

Dietrich says the next step is to follow up with those interested in relocating to the region.

“Invite them back to do a locum, or to visit our clinics and it’s hard to do without an actual recruiter to manage that.”

Both say central and south Frontenac need two to three family physicians to meet current needs and several more in the coming years to cover retirements and population growth.

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