Terrace’s doctor shortage is scheduled to continue to ease into the new year.
Three primary care physicians who began in September now make for 15 in the community.
They’ll be joined by one more next month and in January, Northern Health Authority official Eryn Collins reports, and two physicians will be returning to practice.
“With the incoming arrivals, we expect there will be 18 by early 2024,” she said.
“Northern Health is continuously working to recruit physicians to a number of communities including Terrace, and we are pleased to be able to report progress in spite of the challenging and competitive national and international recruitment environment,” she said.
“Recruitment of family practitioners for primary care and emergency department coverage continues to be a priority.”
The increase beginning in September marks the start of a reversal from what had been such an acute physician shortage earlier this year that Northern Health estimated half of the population in Terrace and area lacked a family physician.
That compared to one in four people elsewhere within the Northern Health region.
Based on ideal numbers, Terrace and area should have nearly 27 full-time equivalent family physicians in Terrace and area compared to the nine to 11 full-time equivalent positions tallied earlier this year.
Collins did caution that not every physician may work full-time.
“It’s important to note that number (18) represents individual physicians — who may or may not choose to practice full-time,” she said.
Additional good news might also come from family physicians who now provide temporary fill-in coverage in Terrace as some have expressed an interest in locating here permanently, Collins added.
The lack of physicians not only affected people who found themselves without a family doctor but also strained services and lengthened wait times at Mills Memorial Hospital’s emergency room.
That’s because people without a physician relied on the ER as their primary care giver and those who did have a family doctor found long wait times to make appointments.
The lack of family physicians becomes even more critical as some will also work in the ER.
While Northern Health works to increase the number of general practitioners, it does offer a virtual clinic. Its hours extend into the evening hours and include availability on the weekends.
Aside from an increase in general practitioners, more specialists are on the horizon, said Collins.
An obstetrician-gynecologist is starting this fall, a pediatrician is to be on duty here next spring and a psychiatrist has been recruited to begin work here in September 2024.
There are already more than 20 specialists working in the area, a figure that has outweighed the number of general practitioners lately. It places Terrace residents needing specialized care in a fortunate position within the north.
Terrace has also become a home for nurse practitioners, a growing class of registered nurses who have taken additional training and who have acquired additional experience allowing them to do approximately 90 per cent of what an M.D. can.
As of now, there are two nurse practitioners based out of the Terrace health unit specializing in working with complex care patients. Complex care is meant for people who have multiple medical conditions.
A third nurse practitioner specializes in pediatrics and works at Northern Health’s Sleeping Beauty pediatrics clinic.
A fourth is in private practice at a local medical clinic.