New doctor recruiting job will focus on Dalhousie med school residents

As the Nova Scotia Health Authority continues efforts to bolster doctor recruitment, a new posting will focus on keeping Dalhousie University medical residents here and bringing Nova Scotia residents studying medicine elsewhere back home.

Dr. Nicole Boutilier, the health authority's incoming vice-president of medicine, said the idea for the position, which will be directly associated with the university, comes from a recruitment and retention working group.

As a promising recruitment pool, it's key for students and residents to know "how important they are to Nova Scotia right from the very first day they come into their clerkship, right through their residency," said Boutilier.

"We heard over and over again that even when our staff or even when people directly from the Department of Health had met with residents or students, they didn't seem to understand 100 per cent that we wanted them and that we were recruiting them," she said in an interview at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow where she is based.

"That's why we were there, but they didn't necessarily see it as they would as other people coming in from away or always asking them, 'Do you want to come home?'"

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Given the recent retention success from Dalhousie's rural family medicine residency program, Boutilier said it only makes sense to further intensify efforts.

The group that represents medical residents in the Maritimes agrees. The vice-president of Maritime Resident Doctors noted residents here are already in the system and employees of the health authority.

"A lot of us want to stay here," said Dr. Leo Fares, a third-year anesthesiology resident at Dalhousie University and a member of the working group that developed the idea.

"You have a target population, a target audience, a captive audience in terms of residents that are working within this system and being able to go out and have a point person to reach out to them specifically, I think, is a step in the right direction to try and make sure that we're retaining residents that we're training here."

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This expanded effort is the same reason Boutilier said she's so encouraged to see a growing number of communities play an active role in the recruitment process.

Having communities involved as liaisons with recruiters, particularly during site visits, to help prospective recruits understand if a community is the right fit for them and their family is key, said Boutilier.

"Without the communities, we won't have success," she said. "There's no question we need the communities involved."

While there had been concerns in the past that getting communities involved in the process could lead to competing efforts, Boutilier doesn't see it that way. She said there would also be a certain level of competition for doctors within this province and beyond, but each community offers something different and is best positioned to showcase itself when doctors come to visit.

It was only when financial incentives became part of the process that problems arose, said Boutilier.

"The bidding wars are what didn't tend to work in the past," she said. "People would come for maybe an incentive that was more than a different community, but it didn't necessarily keep them there."

Rebuilding relationships

Another key part of Boutilier's work will be improving communication between the health authority and doctors in communities, particularly ones farther from Halifax. The situation is particularly strained in certain parts of the province right now as master agreement negotiations continue.

Boutilier said improving relationships starts with empowering local leadership and keeping the lines of communication open. Part of that work will be permanently filling three of the four zone medical executive director positions, which currently have people working on an interim basis.

"We need to be communicating, we need to be honest with each other, we need to be listening to each other and then when people are having an open dialogue like that and there is compromise that both sides need to make, that's what happens," she said.

"And an open open dialogue invites that and good relationships invites that."

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