A family doctor who was born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador wants to live and work in the province, but says the health department's recruitment package isn't enough to bring him home from the Prairies.
Dr. Travis Barron said it all comes down to pay, because returning home to practice medicine would mean taking a hefty pay cut.
"I would get paid, depending how you calculate it, about 40 to 60 per cent less in Newfoundland, unfortunately," Barron told CBC Radio's The St. John's Morning Show.
Barron is from Torbay, but is working as a family doctor in Brandon, Man. and he immediately called Premier Andrew Furey's office two weeks ago after hearing the premier's personal plea for doctors interested in working in the province to contact him directly.
The doctor shortage is wreaking havoc on the health-care system, with polling from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association suggesting 125,000 people do not have a family doctor. A dozen rural emergency rooms in the province have faced frequent closures since January, forcing people to travel — sometimes for hours — to seek emergency care.
Meanwhile, Barron said within 48 hours of his call to the premier's office he saw a number from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador flash across his caller ID. He said it was a representative from the premier's office telling him a recruiter would be in touch.
When the recruiter from the Department of Health called, Barron said they didn't have the kind of specifics recruiters typically present, such as details about positions offered, pay and incentives. He said it felt more like a survey, with the recruiter asking about the type of medicine he practices, why he wants to work in the province and about the barriers keeping him away.
Barron said the 10 minute unscheduled call was ill-timed — in the middle of his work day when patients and students are both demanding his attention.
Unsatisfied with the recruitment effort, Barron contacted CBC News to detail his experience, and then received a third call after CBC requested an interview with Health Minister Tom Osborne about Barron's experience — this time from the assistant deputy minister in charge of the health department's Provincial Health Professional Recruitment and Retention Office.
Barron said the third call had specifics about positions and pay. However, he said there was no mention of recruitment incentives for doctors interested in working in rural and remote parts of the province in any of the calls.
"Definitely there could have been a better job at making those incentives known," he said.
But at the end of the day Barron said he's not moving home and it's because of the dollars and cents.
"I graduated with almost half a million dollars of debt after medical school, which is very, very, very daunting, especially in the current interest rate environment," Barron said, adding that paying off debt is his single biggest priority and a situation other new doctors also face.
Barron said a posting for a job at the Carbonear hospital, similar to one he's doing now in Manitoba, may also discourage other doctors interested in working in the province because of its low salary.
"It's actually the lowest-salary physician's job I've ever seen. And I brought that up to the Ministry of Health," he said, adding the department informed him the pay for that job had been increased.
But there's something else keeping Barron away. His fiance who is a physician's assistant, similar to a nurse practitioner, wouldn't be able to work because the job doesn't exist in the province.
Efforts have to be improved: Health Minister
Health Minister Tom Osborne said the province needs to do a better job when it comes to communicating incentives aiming to attract doctors to the province and keep them here.
"The province has heard loud and clear that recruitment and retention efforts have to be improved," Osborne said.
He says they've hired new employees in their recruitment and retention office and have added additional resources to the health authorities.
Meanwhile, Osborne said the cost of living and housing in Newfoundland and Labrador "is considerably less than it is in Toronto," and it's something he thinks prospective doctors should keep in mind.
Osborne says the province announced more pay for doctors working in rural emergency rooms, and earlier this year added incentives for family doctors setting up or joining practices and have a wage guarantee program.
Despite all that, Barron sees a bigger problem that has an impact on health-care across the country.
He says it's hard for a province such as Newfoundland and Labrador, with fewer than 550,000 taxpayers, to keep up with more populated provinces like Ontario, with a population of more than 14 million people.
"The real problem here, I think, is the provincial health-care system model where really provinces are being put at such unequal disadvantages."