With 2 surgeons leaving, Health PEI 'pulling out all of the stops' in doctor recruitment

·4 min read
Acting Health PEI CEO Dr. Michael Gardam says finding a surgeon who wants to have a broad scope of practice in a rural setting like the Prince County Hospital is a challenge. (Craig Chivers/CBC - image credit)
Acting Health PEI CEO Dr. Michael Gardam says finding a surgeon who wants to have a broad scope of practice in a rural setting like the Prince County Hospital is a challenge. (Craig Chivers/CBC - image credit)

The acting CEO of Health PEI said he's confident that by the summer, the staffing situation at Prince County Hospital in Summerside will have improved.

In an interview Monday with host Mitch Cormier on CBC's Island Morning, Dr. Michael Gardam said that one of the three general surgeons on staff at Prince County Hospital is resigning in June, and another surgeon, who is on a short-term locum contract, will also leave the same month.

"The challenge is when you have such a small system, even one person leaving can really knock it off-kilter," Gardam said.

If somebody goes on summer holidays, everybody else has to pitch in to try to cover them. It's much easier to do that in a large centre versus here. - Health PEI acting CEO Dr. Michael Gardam

He said Health PEI is seeing "quite a bit" of interest from doctors to fill the positions, and they're looking at five or six candidates right now, though no one has signed a contract yet.

"Not only do we need good surgeons … we also need people who are interested in a rural, surgical practice, which is a real sort of jack-of-all-trades kind of role," said Gardam.

"That's not for everybody, and so we really are pulling out all the stops to try to find people."

Some emergency surgeries will be moved from the Prince County Hospital to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.
Some emergency surgeries will be moved from the Prince County Hospital to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Gardam said the surgeon who is resigning in June decided to leave because "the rural practice is perhaps not what they want to be doing...

"It's a challenging but also very, I think, rewarding job. It just kind of takes the right person."

Gardam said Health PEI is trying to inform patients of the wait times when surgeries have to be delayed.

He said some urgent Prince County Hospital surgeries may get moved to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, as CBC News confirmed last week.

Challenges sending people off-Island for care

Gardam also said wait times for surgery can be long because of competing health needs for different Islanders.

"How do we provide really good, you know, standard care for people on the Island, and if we need more fancy stuff, can we partner with other places that are larger that can help us with it?"

Those partnerships — with hospitals in Halifax or Moncton, for example — have become more challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Doctors there are saying, 'Listen, we're overwhelmed, we're not sure we can help you,'" said Gardam.

He said Health PEI Is trying to tighten those partnerships and make sure Islanders can get access to all of the care they need.

Island health-care system lacks 'resiliency'

Gardam also acknowledged that doctor burnout is an issue on P.E.I.

"We don't have our full complement, and so burnout is a very real thing… particularly in a very small area like the Island where there isn't a lot of resiliency," he said.

Dr. Megan Miller, who has been a palliative care physician and clinical associate at the Cancer Treatment Centre in Charlottetown since 2013, was appointed in January as P.E.I.'s first chief physician recruiter.
Dr. Megan Miller, who has been a palliative care physician and clinical associate at the Cancer Treatment Centre in Charlottetown since 2013, was appointed in January as P.E.I.'s first chief physician recruiter.(Medical Society of P.E.I.)

"If somebody goes on summer holidays, everybody else has to pitch in to try to cover them. It's much easier to do that in a large centre versus here."

Gardam said he's been working with Megan Miller, Health PEI's new chief physician recruiter, to try to entice not just surgeons but also family doctors to come to the Island.

He said the province's move towards collaborative practice and communities of care will help attract a lot of family doctors interested in working in interdisciplinary teams.

But there are challenges, he said.

"We've got to put all of this into perspective: We're doing this in the middle of a global pandemic, which just adds this overlay of, everything is harder," said Gardam.

"I have little doubt that a year or so from now, you know, we're going to be in a definitely better place than we are today."

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