Nearly 1,000 Cape Bretoners came out Sunday to talk about their frustration with Nova Scotia’s doctor shortage.
Politicians were there, but so were doctors — with frustrations of their own.
On Monday, the Chronicle Herald asked Doctors Nova Scotia to share their ideas on how obstacles to providing care, particularly in rural areas, can be overcome.
Kevin Chapman, director of strategy and partnerships, recognizes the need to recruit physicians in every community across the province. But in order to do so, he says there are two key questions that need to be answered:
“How do we get physicians here tomorrow? And how do we structure the system long-term so we can effectively recruit and retain?”
Using Sydney as an example, Chapman points to a demographic bulge.
There are a number of physicians who have been in practice for decades and are now looking to retire. Chapman says these same doctors could have a case load of more than 3,000 patients.
They may have delivered three or four generations of families within that tight-knit community, and are now passing that hefty case load onto a fresh face that has yet to establish the same patient-doctor relationship.
For those coming from out of province, this game of catch-up is also mixed with the challenges of getting used to a new lifestyle.
Halifax, Cape Breton and Yarmouth are all great places to live, but they aren’t major centres either. Chapman says there are some physicians who love to live in small, communities, while there are others who enjoy the pace and access a metropolis offers. “It’s one of those things that is both a blessing and a curse,” he says.
Chapman says Sydney is home to specific specialities like orthopedics and plastic surgery, but it doesn’t have a population large enough to justify hiring multiple physicians for each speciality. This could mean two physicians are sharing on-call duties, which could take a significant toll on their family and social life.
“We have to make sure that when physicians come in, its not only about the physician, but about the support their family is going to get and what kind of environment we are bringing them into,” said Chapman.
A large case load and hectic lifestyle also requires a salary that acknowledges the strain of these factors.
Chapman cites “reasonable compensation” as one issue that Doctors Nova Scotia, the Health Authority and the government are working on to ensure physicians are paid appropriately.
And if an overworked physician wants to take a vacation with family, then there needs to be someone available to take his or her place. Chapman says the temporary replacement or locum program needs to be stronger to provide adequate support.
By finding solutions, Chapman says Nova Scotia can keep its competitive edge. The province isn’t the only one experiencing a doctor shortage, which means it’s not the only one competing for doctors.
“We have to make so that not only do they want to come,” he says. “But they want to stay.”
Original publish date: Jun. 13, 2016