Doctor shortage not just about recruiting, says NLMA president

Kris Luscombe is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Kris Luscombe is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

As stories about emergency room wait times, health facility closures, and staffing shortages pile up about Newfoundland and Labrador's healthcare system, the provincial government is looking outside of the country for help.

As the health minister left for Ireland in hopes of recruiting health-care workers, Premier Andrew Furey spoke with the CBC's Rosemary Barton on Friday about the province's efforts.

Furey said that he wants to make sure that international doctors know that Newfoundland and Labrador is a choice for them. He cites similarities between this province and Ireland, the university, and the community of Irish physicians already here as assets.

"So it is an obvious first place for us to start. But I'm telling you now, we won't stop there. We'll go beyond Ireland, into places like South Africa in particular and beyond."

Speaking to the space for recruitment that the province recently opened in India, he said that the program is still in the early stages.

A perfect storm

Furey described coming out of a pandemic combined with a paradigm shift in how people want to practice as "a perfect storm." He said that to fill the gaps in the system, enrolment in medical professional schools in the province has increased by 25 to 35 per cent.

But, he said, even that won't "fully fulfil the issue at hand."

In terms of medical services in other countries, Furey said that recruitment to Newfoundland and Labrador is not necessarily a case of "brain drain," a term used to describe trained professionals immigrating from one country to another.

"The evidence that I'm aware of is simply not there," he said. "If you truly look at and examine the economics of the mobility of these people and migration in general, it often has significant economic returns to the area they're coming from and also offers development for them as a country as well."

Local retention

Dr. Kris Luscombe is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

He said that recruiting doctors from Ireland is strategic because of the similarities in training and culture, and recognizes the importance of internationally trained doctors in the province.

As for retention, he said that physicians have credentials that are globally desirable, but the system also needs to focus on retaining doctors who are trained within the province.

"Really the mainstay of our physician resourcing should come from local recruitment," he said.

"Memorial University is a world class university. [It[ trains some of the best physicians in Canada and in the world. And so we have to definitely ensure that we are making Newfoundland a desirable place for those trainees from Newfoundland to want to work. Newfoundland's a great place to live. We're having a major difficulty convincing people it's a good place to work."


He said that they need to make Newfoundland a competitive place for locally and internationally trained physicians.

In the NLMA's most recent annual survey, 26 per cent of respondents reported that they do not have a family physician. That accounts for just over 136,000 Newfoundlanders. He said that this number has been rising each year.

Dr. Luscombe said that the minister of health, Tom Osborne, has been working with the NLMA to plan government initiatives, particularly in terms of physician recruitment and retention.

"Historically, many of these issues have not been attended to, they've been neglected and we have seen the consequences of this whereby family medicine has become an undesirable job. Young physicians aren't choosing to become family doctors or work in the community."

Dr. Luscombe points to the shared agenda from the Department of Health as an example of working toward recruitment and retention in the province.

"It's not just about recruiting doctors from Ireland. We have to retain the doctors that are here that are committed and are holding up the system," he said.

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