Doctors in Atlantic Canada will soon be able to work in any of the 4 provinces

Premiers Blaine Higgs, Dennis King, Tim Houston and Andrew Furey met in Charlottetown Monday. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC - image credit)
Premiers Blaine Higgs, Dennis King, Tim Houston and Andrew Furey met in Charlottetown Monday. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC - image credit)

Doctors living and working within the four Atlantic provinces will soon be able to work within the region without additional licensing — thanks to a new Atlantic Physicians Registry.

The registry was announced Monday following a meeting of the four Atlantic premiers.The registry is expected to be in place by May 1.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said the registry has been in the works for "the last number of months." He said physicians and surgeons will be able to opt in to the registry. By doing so, they will be able to work in any of the Atlantic provinces without additional licensing requirements.

"Right now, for example, when I fill out my college paperwork, I just get a licence for Newfoundland and Labrador, so for me to come and work in P.E.I. or New Brunswick or Nova Scotia is quite onerous," said N.L. Premier Andrew Furey, who is also an orthopaedic trauma surgeon.

Aaron Adetuyi/CBC
Aaron Adetuyi/CBC

"People who would like to move around in the summertime, for example, P.E.I.'s a beautiful place and want to spend a couple of week with their family, they can certainly do that."

He said it will also allow the provinces to fill "certain gaps in the system" with a bigger pool of candidates.

"We think that, especially with new physicians, there is a want and desire to have a different style of practice — one that offers opportunity, geographic opportunities, different experiences — that having this mobility and eliminating the barriers to moving around Atlantic Canada first and ultimately, we hope, the nation will be something that's very attractive."

'Not a competitive space'

The premiers say the initiative isn't aimed at taking medical resources from each other.

"What we're talking about is temporary pitching in," said Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, pointing out that if a doctor wants to relocate to a different province permanently, they already can.

Aaron Adetuyi/CBC
Aaron Adetuyi/CBC

They can also travel as locums, but that requires what Furey referred to as about a month of paperwork.

"I don't see this as a competitive space, I see this as a collaborative space and when one wins, we all win," said Furey.

King, however, did hint at this possibly being a recruitment tool.

"We do know, as Prince Edward Island for example, the 40 doctors that we recruited in 2021 … over 50 per cent of them were locums who came here first through one of these agreements, came here, did some work here, found a comfort level here and opted to come back."

Not a magic bullet

The premiers said the registry wouldn't fix the physician shortage currently facing the health care system.

"It gives us more Band-Aids, if you will, to help plug some immediate issues along the way, while we are developing a moderate and modern system for the future," said Furey.

Aaron Adetuyi/CBC
Aaron Adetuyi/CBC

"Nothing that we do in health is a magic bullet that will just miraculously fix everything, but I think this is one more small little thing that keeps us moving forward and will make a difference, not just today but into the future," said King.

King said he hopes to eventually see a similar system extend to other heath care professionals.