New docs sweep into Terrace, B.C.

Generational shift underway as veteran physicians retire

A generational change has come to the medical community here as longtime doctors conclude their careers and new physicians take their places.

Long considered one of the more stable of the northern B.C. medical communities over the past several decades thus avoiding doctor shortages experienced elsewhere in the north, Terrace’s veteran doctors began retiring last year, setting off an intensive search for replacements.

The gap between the old and the new resulted in a drop last year here to 12 active general practitioners but recent new arrivals, with more planned, are bringing that number back up, says Dr. Geoff Appleton, a local veteran physician himself, now semi-retired, and the Northern Health Authority’s northwestern B.C. medical director.

In that latter capacity Appleton has been active in finding replacements.

Even though older doctors take their skills with them when they retire, the replacements are proving to be very skilled themselves, says Appleton. Younger physicians among the replacements are keen to do obstetrics, he said.

And there’s a renewed emphasis on on-call service as older doctors, who have spend years being on-call, wanted to scale back, added Appleton.

The arrival of younger physicians has assisted in Terrace’s reputation as being a viable place in which to practice medicine, he said.

“A lot of word of mouth is what really helps us get physicians,” said Appleton.

“You can do recruitment but to say so-and-so told me [is better].”

When speaking with prospective new physicians, they often ask about on-call hours, recreation with money being last, he said.

That shows that lifestyle in Terrace and area is important, said Appleton.

“We’re kind of insistent that people do come to do a site visit,” said Appleton.

“In general we’ve done fairly well. Right now the big recruitment is for two pathologists,” continued Appleton.

And because Terrace is centrally-located in the northwest, making it a base for a wide variety of medical and other services, it has more specialists than other cities of comparable size.

One of the key aspects required of the local medical community is the sharing among general practitioners of on-call service, responding to medical demands away from regularly-scheduled office hours.

That requirement has been somewhat eased with two general practitioners each working half time at the Mills Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and half time at their own practices.

Among the most significant shifts which either have taken place or are about to take place:

• Where recently there has just been one female physician, Dr. Mariette de Bruin, that number will grow to four.

• Doctors as spouses. General practitioner Dr. Scott McCoach is already here and spouse and general practitioner Dr. Meghan McKeever will be arriving in late summer or early fall. Urologist Dr. Paul Gustafson, who replaced long-serving urologist Dr. Francis Osei-Tutu in March, arrived with spouse and pediatrician Dr. Zanita Lim. New general surgeon Dr. Aniedi Dear is joined by spouse Dr. Natasha De Sousa, one of the two part-time emergency room doctors who is expected to begin a separate half-time practice.

Rounding out the doctors as couples complement in early fall, provided things go well with immigration paperwork, are general practitioners Mirke and David Owen from Wales.

• Aside from Dr. Dewit in Mills emergency room, the other part-time ER physician is Dr. Ehi Iyayi, who also maintains a part-time practice.

• Dr. Tom Nagy’s ophthalmology service to the northwest was bolstered in early spring with the arrival of fellow ophthalmologist, Dr. Beatrice Adante.

• A replacement is still being sought for general practitioner Dr. Shun Chi Wong, who retired last year.

There’s a blend of domestic and foreign doctors Appleton noted of the results of the recruitment campaign.

For doctors from overseas, a three-year return service is required, meaning they are required to work here for three years. On that list locally is Dr. Ali Mohammad, who came here last year.

One program for international medical graduates out of St. Paul’s in Vancouver, calls for a two-year residency there and two more years in a community. That’s the case with new arrival Dr. Cesar Lacsamana.

Appleton noted that doctors from the UK can qualify for a licence here without having to promise any return of service but if they leave before one year, they lose some benefits.

There’s also an incentive program providing a signing bonus of $20,000 for physicians to go to northern and rural areas.

There’s an additional relocation allowance of up to $15,000 but if a doctor leaves within a year, he or she has to pay it back.

June 22, 2016. In an earlier version of this article, now corrected, Dr. Aniedi Dear, a general surgeon, was named as a general practitioner and spouse Dr. Natasha De Sousa was identified as Dr. Natasha Dewit. She was also said to have a part-time practice when, in fact, she has not yet started one. General practitioner Mirke Owen’s name was misspelled.