P.E.I. is going to need more doctors, and different types of doctors, as it prepares to open a medical school, says Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam.
Medical students need more than just classrooms, said Gardam. They need to spend time in clinical settings with doctors treating actual patients, and that is not something the P.E.I. medical system is currently ready for.
"That's work that we have to do over the coming months… to really figure out what's the gap between where we are now and what do we really need," said Gardam.
For starters, the province is going to have to change its recruitment strategy. Currently, its only concern in recruiting family doctors is taking Islanders off the patient registry. This has, in itself, been a problem. The number of Islanders on the registry waiting the care of a family doctor passed 20,000 this week.
According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Islanders without a family doctor grew from 11.3 per cent in 2015 to 14.9 per cent in 2019.
"The biggest concern is that we need, not only more doctors, but doctors who have a real interest and expertise in training new doctors," said Gardam.
Doctors who are training students will not be able to take on as many patients, he pointed out.
"When you involve medical students in a system, it slows everything down, and that's because we are busy teaching them and explaining what's going on," he said.
"You require more doctors to be able to care for the same number of patients."
'It's going to be a challenge'
With a planned opening in 2023, the province has less than two years to gear up its health-care system.
"It's not going to be an easy task," said Gardam, but adds he believes in the long term, having a school in the province will help with recruiting and retaining doctors.
"It's going to be a challenge for us, but it's one that — if we can pull this off — at the end it's going to be very, very beneficial," he said.
Adding to the challenge, said Gardam, is that all of Canada will remain short of doctors in the near future because there just haven't been enough doctors trained in recent years.