‘All we’re waiting for is action’ Doctors Manitoba renews call for movement on physician shortage

Doctors Manitoba is reiterating its plea for the province to take swift action to alleviate the ongoing physician shortage.

Manitoba has the third-lowest rate of doctors in the country, said the organization’s president Dr. Candace Bradshaw, and it’s only going to get worse.

“All we’re waiting for is action,” Bradshaw said during a virtual conference on Thursday. “In two weeks, we’ve seen a lot of promises and interest and optimism, but we need action.”

Bradshaw is referring to the province’s recent promise to hire 2,000 more health-care professionals and invest $200 million to retain, train and recruit health-care workers across Manitoba. The plan consists of incentivizing weekend work for doctors, reimbursing doctors’ licensing fees, expanding nursing programs, as well as recruiting more nurses from the Philippines and fast-tracking their qualifications so they can practise here.

According to a report released last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada only has 217 doctors per 100,000 residents. Bradshaw said 405 more doctors need to start practising in Manitoba to meet the Canadian average of 246 per 100,000 residents.

“[The report] also showed that the shortage was on track to get worse because of high levels of distress and burnout among physicians, and because over 40 per cent of doctors are planning on retiring, leaving Manitoba or reducing clinical hours in the next three years,” she said.

Despite the report’s bleak findings, Prairie Mountain Health CEO Brian Schoonbaert said he has a lot of hope for the future based on recent health-care decisions made by the province.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Schoonbaert told the Sun.

Prairie Mountain Health itself is “constantly recruiting” doctors, working on advertising campaigns, and even considering hiring head hunters to draw more physicians to Manitoba, he said.

Part of the problem, he explained, is that the doctor shortage is happening across Canada, although in some cases it’s worse in Manitoba.

“We’re having to compete against other provinces.”

Other reasons that doctors may pass on settling in Manitoba, specifically in small-town and rural practices, is that they don’t want to be on call all the time or work in a network with only a few other physicians.

“Many [doctors] would feel more comfortable in a larger practice,” Schoonbaert said. Work-life balance is always harder to achieve as the sole doctor, or one of only a few physicians, in a community.

Echoing Bradshaw’s statement about losing more doctors due to retirement, Schoonbaert said the COVID-19 pandemic motivated some physicians to retire sooner than planned.

In addition to recruiting physicians, PMH is also trying to secure more nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants to practice in rural communities.

“They’re a vital part of moving forward,” Schoonbaert said.

The ball is now in the province’s court, Bradshaw said. Doctors Manitoba, a physicians’ advocacy group, has given possible solutions to the government, specifically addressing the topics that physicians said were behind their decision to leave the province or reduce their hours.

In a Doctors Manitoba survey, three-quarters of respondents who planned to leave or reduce their hours reported excessive paperwork, unreasonable on-call hours and lack of control over patient care.

It’s not the first time the organization has asked the province to help the situation. Last month, it released five recommendations on how to move forward with recruitment and retention. Simplifying recruitment efforts, offering financial incentives to attract doctors to Manitoba and expanding training were among the suggestions.

The Sun contacted the office of Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon but didn’t receive a reply by press time. However, Gordon told Winnipeg media after question period Thursday that she is reviewing dozens of recommendations from the Doctors Manitoba rural health-care summit this fall and is committed to “crossing the finish line” with them.

She didn’t provide specific timelines for when the recommendations would be followed.

“We are very committed to moving forward with those recommendations and continuing the recruitment efforts that are underway,” Gordon said.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun