IT MAY be the money that attracts physicians to rural and remote B.C. communities but it is what happens inside those communities which may convince them to stay, says Dr. Shelley Ross, president of the B.C. Medical Association.
In the northwest to wrap up a provincial tour, Ross, who is from Burnaby, said employment or activities for spouses, schools for their children, and general lifestyle amenities are increasingly playing an important role in deciding if a physician stays in a rural or remote community.
Attracting a physician was given a specific boost recently when the province pledged to provide $100,000 each to fill 20 empty physician spots around the province.
The plan for this area is to attract an anesthesiologist to Terrace and a GP to Kitimat.
“They have to stay for three years or they have to pay everything back,” said Ross.
“But by the end of three years we hope the spouse is settled in, the kids are in schools they like and they’ve begun to put down roots.”
Still, Ross said money is important, pointing out that by the time a physician is ready to practice, he or she could easily have amassed a tidy sum in student loans.
“We have to make sure we stay competitive,” said Ross in adding that last year was the first time that more doctors left B.C. then arrived or set up practice.
She acknowledged the role that a UBC satellite medical school at the University of Northern BC is playing in training physicians but noted its real success would come in recruiting northerners as students in the first place.
In any event, Ross warned of a shortage of doctors beginning within the next decade as retirements outstrip new entries.
The average age of a GP is approximately 50 while the average age of a specialist is 55.
Some of this may be due to the numbers being trained but Ross points to another reality – just as many if not more women are now being trained as doctors as are men.
“So many are now women in their child bearing years. When they are ready to practice they are in their 30s and they realize they had better get going on the family things,” said Ross. And that may take them out of full time work for a number of years.
Ross also says newer generations of physicians, both male and female, want more family time, a shift from older physicians who would work more hours.
“It’s a generational thing,” she said, adding that it affects professions other than just medicine.
And because newer doctors work less than older ones, more new doctors need to be trained than older ones retiring, said Ross.
“We need two new doctors to replace an older one,” she said.
Canada was at one time able to rely on countries like South Africa to provide doctors but international situations have changed.
South Africa, for example, won’t allow Canadian authorities to inspect their medical schools and without those schools receiving accreditation, their physicians aren’t recognized by Canada. “That door has closed,” said Ross of South African physicians.
Canadians who went overseas to get their medical training present a potential replacement pool but provincial regulations need to change, Ross continued.
It’s easier and more efficient for returning Canadians to fulfill requirements to practice in other provinces than in B.C., said Ross.
“It’s not quite right now but it could be,” she said. Ross said the medical association will continue to push the government for the regulatory changes needed to better accept Canadians trained abroad.