Physician recruitment is going to be done on a region-wide basis now, thanks to a new hub model for attracting doctors. Flickr file photo

New approach to doctor recruitment in West Kootenay

Kootenay-Boundary a provincial leader in effectively attracting doctors to work here

Doctors and health officials in the Kootenay-Boundary are joining forces to attract new physicians to the region.

Last week senior medical leadership from the Kootenay-Boundary agreed to a regional recruitment strategy to attract specialists for local hospitals, and general practitioners for outside the hospitals.

“It is a joint effort by the local physicians organization, which includes the entire Kootenay-Boundary, Kootenay Lake Hospital and Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital,” says Sylvain Turgeon, a physician recruiter with the Kootenay-Boundary Divisions of Family Practice, a professional group representing Kootenay area doctors. “All three organizations together have joined efforts to amplify recruitment efforts across the board.”

The new model for recruitment is unique to the Kootenay-Boundary, he says. Other regions like Kamloops are also looking at adopting the model.

“It’s a recruitment hub for Kootenay-Boundary,” Turgeon says. “Instead of recruiting physicians in silos — each community for each community — we’re going to have a regional effort, likely with more means, wider audience, more capacity building and so forth to benefit all.”

Provincial leader

The West Kootenay has become a provincial leader in finding and attracting new doctors to the region.

“We’re considered leaders in the province in terms of what we are doing,” says Dr. David Merry, a semi-retired doctor who has practiced in Grand Forks for three decades. “Our family physician community has decided to designate significant resources to recruitment. We see it as very important to our community here.”

He notes the region has had a dedicated recruitment officer for several years now.

“That’s really helpful,” he says. “In the past doctors recruited mostly through word-of-mouth and by advertising in magazines. But doctors are doctors, they’re not professionals in that kind of work, so it’s nice to have someone who’s trained in that kind of work to assist us.”

Merry sits on local, regional, and provincial committees involved in doctor recruitment. He says as Boomer doctors like himself age, they struggle to find an exit to retire without leaving their communities in the lurch.

“I know one physician in the region who held his retirement off because he didn’t want to leave his practice without a physician,” he says. “But it took him four years to replace himself.”

Merry, who sits on several regional and provincial recruitment committees, says the West Kootenay has worked hard to keep the shortage at bay.

“Since 2017, 16 positions have left the communities for various reasons. Three are still practicing as locums. But in that same time we have recruited 24 positions.

“So we have been very effective in recruiting.”

Right now, there are eight postings for doctors for the Kootenay — including four for Nelson and two for Trail.

No easy formula

Nakusp is one of those communities looking for a doctor. From a full complement of six doctors, they’ve lost two, and another may be leaving soon.

A recruitment committee has beens truck to work on attracting new doctors

SEE: Nakusp to use New Denver playbook to attract new doctors to town

There’s no magic formula for doctor recruitment. It takes wide-ranging advertising and building connections, developing temporary doctor positions (locums) to familiarize doctors to the area, and rolling out the red carpet for visiting physicians you’re trying to get to commit to your town.

“If a lead generated by any of those streams, we take great care to make sure this prospective physician candidate has a favourable experience,” says Turgeon. “So we arrange site visits, fly them in, or line them up an opportunity to work in the community as a locum before deciding.“

Turgeon says having the community on board and working to attract the doctor is very helpful.

“What it does is it turns a rather stale, online ad into something more alive,” he says. “If the community throws its love behind the prospective candidate, it’s a different story.”

Turgeon says doctors today are looking for opportunity to do more than just basic patient care.

“Family physicians are doing more than just straight clinic practice,” he says. “They are providing coverage in emergency, but some also have specialties.

“Some will do oncology, some will do anaesthesia, some will do chronic pain management, and so forth,” he says. “And that builds a lot of resiliency in a rural area like ours, to be able to provide those services and patients not having to go to Kelowna or elsewhere.”

Prospective doctors are also looking for more work-life balance, meaning there can be the need for more doctors in a community to share the burden. And it’s also important for the doctor’s spouse to see a place for him or herself in the community too.

“Most younger physicians are interested in having a schedule that allows for a reasonable work-life balance,” he says. “They are going from 80-hour weeks to 50-hour weeks, which is arguably more sustainable.”

Communities on a ‘date’

Once a prospective physician is in town, it’s important to make them feel welcome — give them guides around town, put them up in a nice place, and leave them a gift basket.

But a community shouldn’t try too hard, says Turgeon.

“You can compare it to a community being on a date,” he says. “You don’t want to be too overwhelming in your welcome, but there are very useful things that can be achieved by a community.

“Of course we have to walk the line between making it clear they are most welcome and needed, but at the same time we don’t want to portray it as a desperate situation.”

Turgeon says his committee is working with residents of Nakusp, and its recruiting committee, to develop their recruitment standards.

But ultimately it could be a while before Nakusp is restored to a full complement of doctors. Turgeon urges people to be patient.

“Support the efforts of your committee which has been formed… encourage them and be proud of your community and welcome any candidates to your area,” he says.

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