The P.E.I. Medical Society has signed a deal with the P.E.I. Department of Health and Wellness to begin recruiting doctors to P.E.I., the province announced Friday.
The plan is to pay P.E.I. doctors to recruit other doctors to come practise on the Island, and it was negotiated over the last several months. P.E.I., like many jurisdictions in Canada, has been experiencing a shortage of doctors and other health-care professionals, and there is currently a waiting list of 14,402 patients seeking a family doctor on P.E.I., according to the province's website.
"We knew that we need to engage physicians to help us recruit physicians — it just makes sense, right?" Health Minister James Aylward told the media in a scrum after Friday's legislative session wrapped up.
"We wanted to enter into a formal agreement with [the doctors] … so we could tie them in with our recruitment and retention secretariat."
Doctors and government will work in tandem, Aylward said, pointing out the medical society has already begun its efforts by posting a position of chief physician recruiter, which will be almost full-time.
"We as physicians wanted very much to be part of fixing the access problem," said medical society president Dr. David Bannon. "The project is off the ground and we're very excited about it."
The Health Department and doctors will jointly form a physician recruitment task force. Doctors will consult with the government's existing recruitment team to come up with a marketing strategy, and create a "more efficient and positive" experience for doctors considering moving to P.E.I. to practise. The society will also create a new orientation process for new doctors.
"It's kind of remarkable we're the first in Canada to come to this conclusion," Bannon said.
Tignish announcement promised soon
The government has yet to decide how many doctors it needs to hire and where they should practise, Aylward said.
The department is carrying out a physician mapping process, and Aylward said he expects a report some time this fall.
It's also doing a rural health survey seeking input from Islanders on what services are needed in their community such as nurses specializing in diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease support.
Communities, for example, like Tignish in western P.E.I. "That's a hard-to-recruit-to community here on P.E.I. Why? I don't know. Tignish is a beautiful community," Aylward said, promising an announcement on that "in the very hear future."
Community foundations will also continue to play a role in trying to attract and welcome doctors to rural areas, Aylward said.
"They're instrumental in showcasing what the community has to offer," he said.
Keeping or retaining doctors is an issue overseen by Health PEI, Aylward said, adding its new board chair Derek Key is "keenly interested" in ensuring retention happens. Health PEI is separate from the Department of Health and is run by a board of directors, accountable to the minister. Health PEI runs the Island's hospitals and health centres and delivers community-based services.
Aylward said "it frustrates me to a certain extent" that physician recruitment and retention have been handled by different areas of government.
"Really we should be one moving forward together, and that's my goal," he said.
Bannon agreed retention is an area that needs work.
"We have to find a way to support people when they make their transition to the Island," he said. "There's some very humanistic things that we can do to our fellow colleagues that will make it much more smoother, than just assume it will be taken care of."
Bannon said some of the work is already underway and he expects results soon.
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