When a group in the Truro area launched an online campaign this summer to try to recruit international doctors to the region it had plenty of hope, but no real expectations.
David Phillips, the CEO of the Truro and Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity, said the hope was to get a few responses. But they received 199 in the first wave of advertising.
"We were shocked," said Phillips. "We weren't expecting that number."
All the inquiries were from physicians or medical residents living in the United Kingdom, the market for the campaign. Ads were placed on Facebook, Instagram and Google.
Those who clicked on the ads were directed to the province's More Than Medicine doctor recruitment portal. They were asked to fill out a short form.
The business group has spent the last six weeks going through the forms to identify doctors who seemed the most serious about coming to Nova Scotia, had the proper credentials and training, and those who might be the best fit for the region.
"We've identified, I think, seven family doctors who are really good candidates to come to the region," said Phillips.
Along with the family physicians, the partnership is looking at eight emergency room doctors and a psychiatrist. Doctors who make it through the vetting process will be contacted directly to begin to talk about immigrating to Canada.
Dr. Justin Blaauwendraat said those without access to regular care in the Truro area are struggling to get the help they need. (Jean Laroche/CBC)
According to the Sept. 1 figures on Nova Scotia's Need a Family Practice Registry, there are 24,700 people without access to primary care in the northern zone, which includes Truro-Colchester and the counties of East Hants, Cumberland and Pictou. Five thousand live in what the province considers Truro and area.
Dr. Justin Blaauwendraat, who is part of Truro's recruitment drive, said those without access to regular care in the region are struggling to get the help they need.
"They are having to get creative with how they're going to get access to care, whether that's med refills [or] acute illness," said Blaauwendraat. "They're relying on the walk-in clinics, which are limited. And if not, they're turning to the emergency room.
"[They are] spending a long time waiting for potentially a simple med refill or not being able to catch a significant disease burden that could have been identified earlier."
He's hoping at least three or four doctors can be convinced to cross the Atlantic ocean to set up a practice and start a new life in Truro. But he figured six or seven would be ideal.
"We also need to keep in mind that there are a few physicians locally that are anticipating retiring or sitting on a retirement, not wanting to abandon their patients," said Blaauwendraat. "So, we need to keep in mind those positions."
Province not surprised by response
The Nova Scotia government contributed $50,000 to Truro's online campaign and a physician retention effort, through the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment.
Although this is the first time a community-specific campaign has been included on the provincial recruitment website, Katrina Philopoulos, the director of physician recruitment, was not surprised by the response.
"We've been doing digital marketing campaigns since 2019 and we expect this," said Philopoulos. "This has been our experience with that particular approach."
She cautioned that a large show of interest would not necessarily mean doctors actually moving to the Truro area.
"It's very similar to our other campaigns," said Philopoulos. "The whole purpose of the campaign is to have a large candidate funnel reaching in. The actual number that we will be working with, that would be considered eligible for practice in Nova Scotia, is quite finite in the end."
Philopoulos described international physician recruitment as a "journey" that could take up to 18 months to bear fruit.
Despite the potential delay, and the odds, Phillips remains optimistic about the seven doctors his group has identified as the area's best prospects.
"If we can land half of those doctors we'll be in a position to actually retire our current patient wait-list, which is a really big deal for the community," said Phillips. "We're really excited about the impact of this program and the success that we've had so far."
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