October 25, 2017 • Written in Community Support 0 Comments

• Written by Bobby Jones

“Because of the support from RhPAP, and the community that we had with our recruitment committee, we’ve been very successful in recruiting physicians,” says Dr. Hendrik van der Watt.

He’s responsible for physician recruitment in Bonnyville.

RhPAP Executive Director, Bernard Anderson walks with Dr. Hendrik van der Watt outside the Bonnyville Healthcare Centre 

“I think the important thing is to convey a message that you are part of a team and that the team has a common goal.  And if you can get that across then people really get engaged. And once people are engaged you can get a lot more done.”

He practises in a beautiful area.  Farming plays a big part here.  

Moose Lake skirts the edge of Bonnyville.  It's a mecca for water sports, mountain biking and wildlife. 

 Two canoeists enjoy a beautiful afternoon on Moose Lake, near Bonnyville.


There’s the nearby Iron Horse trail for ATV and snowmobile enthusiasts.  And you’re not far from Cold Lake, considered by many anglers to be one of the best fishing lakes in Alberta.  

Cold Lake Harbour At Dusk.  Dr. van der Watt is working with attraction and retention committees in St. Paul and Cold Lake to form a regional committee.

But you have to have the time to enjoy it.  You can’t always be working.

“We also very quickly realized that a big obstacle in physicians coming to rural areas is having a work/life balance,” says Dr. van der Watt.

Dr. van der Watt with patient at Bonnyville Medical Clinic.

A huge leap forward in improving work life balance came with the introduction of a hospitalist program, as initially suggested by Dr. Travis Webster.

“When a typical rural physician works and admits a patient, as long as that patient is in the ward, you are responsible for them. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if he’s there for 365 days, then 365 days. So even though your clinic day is done at 4:00, you are still responsible to cover that patient. So, it’s really limiting with how you move.”

One of the 14 physicians practising in Bonnyville.

“We decided to divide the workload amongst each other where each of our 14 physicians will be on call for a week.  They come in when the rotation starts at 8 o’ clock and they will be seeing all the patients and being on call for them until the next Thursday at 8 when the next physician takes over.  And that provides freedom then for the other 13 physicians to not have responsibility for in-patient care.”

With doctors changing every Thursday, it was necessary to find a way to bridge the gap in continuity of care.  The Bonnyville team lobbied for, and got, a nurse practitioner.

Jennifer Cory (L) is the nurse practitioner who assists with the hospitalist program.

“And that has proven to be immensely successful. The knowledge that she brought as well as the continuity of care has really just enhanced our program.  And I must say our patients really love it. And our docs love it and our staff love it.

The Bonnyville team also took steps to accommodate physicians who for family reasons wanted to change to part time hours.

“We increased our ER shifts from two shifts a day to three shifts a day, making them a little bit shorter. That also helped us get our female physicans that decided to start families to come back and do ER shifts, when in the past they wouldn’t, because now they can do the night shifts.  At eight o’clock the kids are in bed and mom can go to work and by the time the kids are up, mom is back at home.”

Dr. van der Watt chats with RhPAP Executive Director, Bernard Anderson outside the Bonnyville Medical Clinic.  He practises here as well as Bonnyville Healthcare Centre.

There you have it.  The top three reasons for successful physician attraction and retention in Bonnyville:
1. Being part of a team with common goals.  
2. Enjoying work/life balance.  
3. Accommodating part time physicians.

Seagulls on a deck at Moose Lake, located on the outskirts of Bonnyville

Dr. van der Watt concludes,  “I really feel passionate about what we are doing.  I was accepted in this community with open arms and wanted to try and do my best to make sure that we continue the services that people require and even exceed that.”  

Written by Bobby Jones, RhPAP

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