Doctor recruitment reaches record high, but N.S. still falling short of goal

·3 min read
Health Minister Michelle Thompson says the record recruitment numbers are a win, but there's plenty more work to be done. (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Michelle Thompson says the record recruitment numbers are a win, but there's plenty more work to be done. (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia recruited a record number of doctors last year, but physician departures have left the province short of its recruitment goal.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, 163 doctors moved to Nova Scotia to practise medicine, including 75 family physicians and 88 specialists. Over the previous three years, 130, 128 and 127 physicians were recruited, respectively.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said she's celebrating the record recruitment and is happy with the momentum.

"But we know there is more work to do," she said. "So despite a record year, we need more doctors to choose Nova Scotia, as well as other professionals like nurses, paramedics and continuing care assistants."

Last year, 68 doctors retired, meaning there was a net gain of 95 physicians. The province estimates it needs about 100 new doctors each year for the next 10 years.

'I almost had second thoughts'

Dr. Hadiza Babatolu recently moved to Nova Scotia from Portsmouth, England, and has opened a family practice in Middle Sackville, N.S.

She said the process of coming to Nova Scotia was "really daunting."

"I almost had second thoughts about coming. However, I'm glad I came."

Babatolu said she has received a lot of support from medical colleagues and patients.

Communications Nova Scotia
Communications Nova Scotia

"The patients, that's the one that I think warmed me the most.… Almost every patient that comes in says welcome and thank you. I haven't had that in a long time. It makes it worth being here."

The community and the "culture of kindness" in Nova Scotia has also helped her children settle in and helped her family feel welcome. Her neighbours even shovelled snow in front of her house this winter and mowed the lawn in the spring.

"I was like, wow, does this happen in this day and age? It's amazing."

Babatolu has almost 1,000 patients and is still taking on more.

More data needed

As of June 1, 94,855 Nova Scotians are on the wait-list for a family doctor — a record high — but that figure is likely an underrepresentation, as not everyone adds themselves to the registry.

On average, a full-time family physician in the province has about 1,350 patients.

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark said he's concerned that recruitment efforts haven't trickled down to impact the wait-list.

Clark said he'd like to see better data collected on how many doctors are expected to retire in the next few months and how many patients new doctors are taking on.

"It feels like we're flying a bit blind on these things," he said. "So if we don't have good data to base decisions on, I'm not sure how we can make good decisions."

In March, there were about 190 family doctors over the age of 65, Clark said.

Dr. Kevin Orrell, the CEO of the Office of Health-Care Professionals Recruitment, said it's tricky to make predictions about doctor retirements.

"Physicians are not forthright in terms of declaring their intent to either retire or to reduce practice. So it becomes sometimes very hard to predict, given that they often wait until, you know, very close to when they're going to finish."

Retention a key issue

NDP MLA and Health critic Susan Leblanc said the province also needs to focus on retaining newly recruited doctors.

She said the NDP recently received statistics through a freedom-of-information request showing that 136 of the 390 internationally trained doctors who registered as physicians in Nova Scotia over the past five years ceased to be registered during that period.

"Should we be celebrating or do we need to be taking a really good look at how we're going to keep those doctors in Nova Scotia?"

As of May 31, there are 149 physician vacancies, including 60 specialty and 89 family medicine doctors.

MORE TOP STORIES

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting