Province losing race to attract physicians: NLMA

·4 min read

The provincial government has said it wants to better co-ordinate doctor recruitment and retention efforts, but the loss a few years ago of a physician recruitment co-ordinator position at Memorial University’s medical school doesn’t seem to dovetail with that desire.

No one seems to know what actually happened to the post, which was first created in 2001. Sources suggest the existing co-ordinator simply retired and no one was hired in her place.

When asked for an explanation, the Department of Health pointed to the fact that each of the province’s four regional health authorities have a physician recruitment manager and that they regularly engage with MUN.

In a statement, the department said the Health Boards Association had a recruitment manager position which was “replaced with recruitment activities coming from both the department and the regional health authorities.”

It’s not clear whether that was the post in the medical school, and the current dean of the school, Dr. Margaret Steele, says the office was vacated before her time.

“This strategic location lent itself well to nurturing a healthy relationship with medical students throughout their training,” Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association president Susan MacDonald wrote in a letter this week to members. “In addition, the recruitment office provided information to potential candidates nationally and internationally regarding practice opportunities throughout the province.”

In talking to doctors, academics and even the health minister himself, one gets the impression that centralizing recruitment efforts is a cornerstone in solving the province’s diminishing returns on doctor retention.

Yet there’s little indication any progress is being made on that front.

Last month, the province’s largest health authority, Eastern Health, told The Telegram it’s open to the idea of centralizing recruitment, but that no such movement was on its radar.

This, despite the fact Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said it was part of the government’s agenda from the 2021 budget in April.

The current approach appears to be one of crisis management, with regional health authorities (RHAs) desperately filling vacancies as they rise and often competing with each other. Eastern Health is currently trying to fill a gap that will be left when two Bell Island physicians leave by late fall.

“Our members have informed us that RHA physician recruitment efforts focus mainly on urgent vacancies and locums for hospitals, with insufficient resources to focus on MUN Med or other Canadian provinces,” MacDonald wrote.

Meanwhile, there appears to be little organized effort to keep even home-grown physicians in their posts.

In a recent interview, Steele said some medical school graduates at a doctor recruitment workshop in June said that felt they were essentially abandoned after taking a rural posting.

“They signed a contract for three years, and their contract was ending in a week or two and nobody had contacted them to say, ‘Do you want to stay?’” she said. “So the recruitment does need to be centralized, and it does need to come to the medical school, and the medical students and the residents, so the residents know what the opportunities are.”

Steele said some communities, such as Grand Falls-Windsor and Twillingate, do a good job of enticing and retaining physicians.

“But the whole process of physician recruitment and retention is everybody’s responsibility,” she said.

The NLMA’s letter came in response to public comments by Haggie, in which he said recently announced recruitment and retention initiatives in Nova Scotia mirrored many of the efforts already undertaken in this province.

MacDonald called foul, saying nothing here resembles Nova Scotia’s plan to tailor clinical health services plans to meet the needs of the community and take retirement plans of aging physicians into account.

Despite calling for a physician health human resource plan for years, the NLMA has never seen a government-prepared physician human resource plan or a recruitment and retention strategy,” she wrote.

In a previous news release, MacDonald explained how Nova Scotia’s new $55 million investment in physician retention could spell for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We are already less competitive in family medicine than the other Atlantic Provinces, let alone the rest of Canada,” She said. “The new recruitment incentives in Nova Scotia will put our province even further below the Atlantic average. It should put everyone on notice.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram

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