District of Houston

District adds its voice to the call to train more doctors

Physician shortage a significant challenge in the north

The District of Houston is joining other northwestern local governments in asking the provincial government to increase the number of doctors being trained in northern B.C.

It’s specifically zeroing in on the number of training spaces for residents, the term given to medical school graduates who must still spend two years under the supervision of physicians if they wish to become family practitioners. The residency period is longer for doctors wishing to specialize.

The concern is that while medical schools may turn out graduates, if there are not enough resident training spaces, the effort to increase the number of fully-qualified physicians will falter.

“British Columbia currently has approximately 260 residence spaces for training, which is not sufficient to sustain our health care system,” the letter agreed to by council at its Jan. 3, 2023 meeting states. It is being sent to provincial health minister Adrian Dix.

“Resources to support physicians in regions like northwest B.C. are essential to attract and retain enough physicians to provide services to our communities,” the letter states.

Driving the concern of the District of Houston and other northwestern local governments is the workload of doctors still in the region.

“Prospective physicians must consider the heavy workload that accompanies a practice in a community with limited primary care physicians and this can be a disincentive to establishing a practice in the northwest,” the letter continues.

The effort to have the province boost resident training spaces in the north began with the North West Regional Hospital District which sent its own letter to Dix on December 6 of last year.

Hospital district chair Barry Pages said it sent its letter after hearing that communities across the northwest are increasingly short of doctors.

“A number of directors [on the hospital district board] have been raising this issue as a significant one of concern within their communities,” he said. “A significant number of people are without a family physician.

The regional hospital district board is made up of directors of three northwestern regional districts — the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, the North Coast Regional District and the western portion of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako — reaching from Haida Gwaii to Houston.

So far the Village of Telkwa, New Hazelton and the Kitimat-Stikine regional district have joined with the regional hospital district and the matter is now on the agendas of other northwestern B.C. governments.

Pages said the prospect of increased training spaces for residents in the north fits one of the founding principles of the medical training program at UNBC.

“The more people we train in the north, the more people will stay in the north so what we are asking now is more resources for that [training] program,” he said.

Pages reached back to the years before the medical training program opened at UNBC as a satellite of the UBC medical school, to note that communities across the north raised money to bolster their desire to train physicians in the north.

“And now we’re asking for the province to put together the business case for this,” he said of adding more resident spaces.

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