Doctor recruitment efforts paying off in northern Cape Breton

Recruiting rural doctors has been a challenge in Nova Scotia, but efforts are paying off at Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neils Harbour.

Coun. Wayne Budge, who represents northern Cape Breton for Victoria County, said things are looking up, now that a new physician is coming in September.

"Two of our doctors are getting up there [in age] and they would like to retire, but they've been unable to because of the shortage, so anytime we can get a doctor it's a big boost," he said.

Emmanuel Comtois, business manager at the hospital's family clinic, said doctors Ken Murray and Bernie Buffett worked alone for years, making it difficult to cover the hospital and clinic and still have a life.

He said two newly licensed doctors took locum — or temporary — positions in Neils Harbour last summer and that has made a huge difference.

"One of those physicians came back in January for a three-month locum and then, given the current state with COVID, decided to stay here rather than go locum somewhere else and she'd also just fallen in love with the area and with the quality of life that we have here in northern Cape Breton," Comtois said.


The other starts a one-year contract there this fall.

"It's nice to have those extra physicians and hopefully, if we can find one more physician, then both Dr. Murray and Dr. Buffett can retire," he said.

Buchanan Memorial is a 10-bed hospital with X-ray and lab facilities. The hospital foundation has purchased extra equipment, when possible, and Parks Canada donated an old warden's house to provide accommodations for visiting physicians, said Comtois.

People with the foundation and the clinic have been attended recruiting events with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Victoria County recently purchased a home from the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority to provide more accommodations for doctors, he said.

For six years, the community relied on Buffett and Murray alone, but with more doctors on hand, the health-care facilities have been able to take on medical students and residents, Comtois said.

Until then, it was a catch-22, with doctors needing help but being too busy to take on supervision of others, he said.

"It all kind of comes with time and with momentum," he said.

'Right direction'

The community also successfully fought to replace a lab technologist after the position was cut by the health authority.

"I think everything seems to be moving in the right direction," Comtois said.

Budge said the area still needs one more doctor.

"It's not easy to get a doctor, especially in a rural area," he said. "The more we can get, the better."

Comtois agreed.

"We're still recruiting and I think it's part of the reason why the hospital ended up where it was," he said.

"Everybody was so busy that there was no time to recruit, so now even though we're well-staffed, we're continuing to recruit, because you don't want to end up in a situation again where there's only two physicians and then scramble to try to find somebody else."