Last year in the spring, Bonnyville community lost five physicians in a very short period of time, leading to the possibility of service disruption and ER coverage shortage. Two of the physicians practised low risk obstetrics with C-section privileges and because of that our obstetric program was bound to close as well.
With the knowledge about the difficulty in recruiting new physicians and with the current problems for coverage, a new plan was needed. After a discussion with Kim Fleming, AHS recruitment officer, she informed me of a RPAP program on how to form a physician recruitment and retention committee. Armed with this knowledge a meeting was called between our Town and MD councils, Bonnyville Health Foundation, Bonnyville Health centre administration, Kim Fleming from AHS as well as local physicians. The response and support from above members were incredible and by the end of this meeting, the Bonnyville recruitment and retention committee was formed.
The goals set at this meeting were as followed:
- Providing sustainable funds in assisting with recruitment – site visits, recruitment funding and initial expenses
- Providing interest free loans to be used by physicians to help with deposits on housing, initial out of pocket costs and buying cars.
- Setting up a welcome committee and introducing physicians to the community, schools and recreation. In essence selling a lifestyle in Bonnyville.
- Providing interim funding for locums to help with immediate need.
- Acquiring rental properties to be used by locums and new physicians while finding their feet.
- Using some of the funding to train one of our current physicians in performing C-sections
I can now say that with the support of this committee we have successfully recruited six new physicians to Bonnyville. Two are already practising and using the interest-free loans provided to buy a house. From my experience, if a physician buys a house they tend to stay long term. One of the physicians is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, which is rare of in rural communities. We were also able, with the support from Kim Fleming at AHS, to train one of our physicians to perform C-sections.
The success of the welcoming committee needs special mention as it directly influenced the decision of two physicians decisions to come to Bonnyville, despite being offered considerable more incentives by other rural communities. The physicians informed us that by meeting the who’s who of Bonnyville and what it had to offer, made them feel welcome and made them feel that this is a community that cares about, and is involved with health care.
While still having immigration and college hurtles to overcome, should all the physicians arrive, hopefully by the spring, I want to predict that all patients in our community will have access to a primary care physician. It will enable us to expand ER coverage reducing wait times. Further we hope to offer after hour’s walk-in care, reducing the burden even more. It will also complement our current hospitalist program, cancer clinic, OR schedule and Long-term care coverage.
With these changes we are hoping to make Bonnyville a community where all the health care needs of our residents can be met, and physicians will stay long term because of the support and lifestyle we offer.