Doctors Nova Scotia is applauding quick changes implemented at the province's new health-care professional recruitment office after it locked in three young specialists who will move to Cape Breton.
The physicians, who have ties to the region, approached the province about working in Nova Scotia 15 months ago when they were entering their final year of school.
Dr. Kevin Orrell, CEO of the new office, said the physicians have spoken with recruiters repeatedly since then, but were never actually given job offers. One of his first tasks, he said, was to lock them in.
"They're thrilled to have the security now of knowing that at the completion of their fellowship year, they will have a job in Cape Breton where they wanted to go," he said.
The two anesthesiologists and a psychiatrist will start sometime in late 2022.
Orrell said this will be his office's new approach: making concrete offers to physicians, even if it will take time before they land in the province.
"I don't want to be overly critical of the process that was in place because a great deal of it had to do with budget and things like that," Orrell said.
"I do think that we're fortunate that these people who had some connection to Cape Breton wanted to remain on the list and were not attracted elsewhere in that timeframe."
Orrell said he's inspired by the experience of his daughter, who became a physiatrist in Saskatoon. This summer, she signed a contract in Cape Breton, filling a vacancy that has existed for eight years.
"I think the process can be expedited and we can reduce a great deal of the red tape," he said. "I think any Nova Scotian willing to repatriate, I think we can expedite the process by which they return."
Financial flexibility for new physicians
Orrell said it's also vital that his office can adapt.
He said two new family physicians in the Halifax area were struggling to set up their practices in the three-month window they were given. He said they were doing a great job of taking new patients off the wait-list, but needed more time to get a strong financial footing.
At the end of three months, they were supposed to go from a salary to a fee-for-service payment plan. Orrell said he offered them a year of salary instead, alleviating the pressure.
"Basically we extended that so they had a comfort zone and they didn't have to feel as if they would be unable to make a living in the three-month timeframe," he said.
Promises of commitment, flexibility and retention are all music to the ears of Doctors Nova Scotia, which represents physicians in the province.
Dr. Heather Johnson, the president, is downright gleeful that Orrell's office is wasting no time in tackling these lingering issues.
"We want Nova Scotia to be a place where people can come where the barriers are minimal, where we do our due diligence, where we get physicians and other health-care professionals here working as easily for them as it can be," she said.
"These things are really exciting when we start to hear them. This is what we're hoping will come out of this new office of recruitment."
Planning for the future
One of Orrell's other priorities is succession planning. With an aging medical workforce, he said it doesn't make sense to turn away health-care workers if there isn't a vacancy today.
"I witnessed during my years as an orthopedic surgeon, many times communities were left very vulnerable because the retirements occurred abruptly and there was no one in the wings to fill those positions.... Before, we would refuse somebody for that community just simply because there isn't a position."
Johnson said it makes complete sense. She used the example of a specialty with four placements. If one physician gets sick, three people have to carry the workload.
"If you have five people, then you can maintain a better work-life balance. So it provides that flexibility so you don't tax the people that are remaining," she said.
"It allows us to expand some of the services that we offer, because we can offer things that are outside the norm, because you have somebody who doesn't have to do the emergency, urgent work all the time."
Orrell said his office has already been flooded with notes from health-care workers who would like to move to the province.
He'll focus first on Nova Scotians who are qualified in their fields.
"Each case is different," he said. "But if someone makes a conscious decision to return to the community where they grew up, very often that person is likely to stay for the 30 to 35 years of their practice."
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