Vancouver resident Arsalan Hassan is finishing his third year of medical school at the University of British Columbia. Hassan worked in Burns Lake for four weeks as part of his medical program and said he was surprised at how satisfied he felt. The new Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake opened in February 2015. Northern Health believes the new facility will help attract more health care professionals to the area.

Vancouver resident Arsalan Hassan is finishing his third year of medical school at the University of British Columbia. Hassan worked in Burns Lake for four weeks as part of his medical program and said he was surprised at how satisfied he felt. The new Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake opened in February 2015. Northern Health believes the new facility will help attract more health care professionals to the area.

The challenge of retaining physicians

What are the best strategies to make doctors feel at home?

Rural communities in Canada have had difficulties recruiting and retaining physicians for decades.

According to Elizabeth Wenghofer, Associate Professor for Laurentian University’s School of Rural and Northern Health, there isn’t a shortage of physicians in Canada per se as much as a problem of “maldistribution.”

According to Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 13.8 per cent of British Columbians were living in rural areas in 2011 while only 6.3 per cent of physicians were working in those areas.

The reason for this maldistribution might be that many urban-dwellers often see limitations to living in small communities.

“Physicians are just like everyone else; they want sports opportunities for their kids, places to worship and connections with cultural roots, meet new people and get married, and good career opportunities for their spouses,” said Wenghofer. “Many small rural centres cannot offer the same breadth of services and variety of opportunities that are found in urban centres, and they never will.”

Wenghofer points out, however, that the main challenge is not attracting physicians to rural areas, but retaining them.

“There have been numerous policy initiatives and incentives to recruit physicians to rural areas,” she said. “The problem is that they [physicians] often leave afterwards.”

According to Jonathon Dyck, Northern Health’s Spokesperson, finding “the right person” that will have better chances of adapting to life in a rural setting has proven to be the best strategy.

“As we recruit to rural areas, we want to make sure they are the right fit for the practice and lifestyle in the area to retain that person,” explained Dyck. “The marketing strategy must be about rural living and practice, and finding the right person.”

Another common concern among physicians wishing to relocate to a rural community is the challenge of finding work opportunities for their spouses.

Dyck said Northern Health has been partnering with local governments and organizations to find work opportunities for spouses of health care professionals, as well as networking opportunities within the community.

However, ensuring a physician feels at home in an isolated community takes more than government incentives. According to Dyck, an essential part of this process is community involvement.

“It is not just finding a physician to cover a practice, instead finding a physician that will integrate well into the community,” he said. “Recruitment and retention of health care professionals takes a community, and having strong community involvement helps encourage health care professionals not only to relocate, but also remain in that community.”

Burns Lake currently has 3.25 full-time equivalent physicians with an additional one full-time equivalent providing office locum support. However, the ideal number of physicians required to service the population in and around Burns Lake would be of eight full-time equivalents, explained Dyck.

“There are a variety of health care professionals required for Burns Lake and the surrounding area,” he said. “We [Northern Health] continue to actively recruit for these positions.”

According to Dyck, the new Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre – opened in February 2015 in Burns Lake – will help attract more health care professionals to the area.

“People enjoy working in new, state-of-the-art facilities,” he said. “With a new hospital and health centre in Burns Lake, we know this will be an attractive environment for health care professionals and physicians seeking to relocate to a rural community.”

Physicians considering Burns Lake as a place to live could be eligible for a $20,000 signing bonus, as well as $15,000 in relocation assistance from Northern Health. In addition to their salaries, new physicians are eligible for an annual flat fee payment of $22,922.83, and between $2000 and $10,000 for continuing medical education.

In March 2013, the B.C. government and the B.C. Medical Association partnered to establish a new incentive – the rural physicians for British Columbia incentive. Aimed to fill 20 pre-designated family physician and specialist positions, the incentive provided each physician with a one-time payment of $100,000 if they committed to a three-year return of service.

Northern Health designated Burns Lake for one of these positions, and a new physician, recruited in January 2015, received the one-time incentive of $100,000.

While the provincial government continually works to increase monetary incentives to address the shortage of physicians in rural areas, some people argue a different approach would be more effective.

Wenghofer believes that investing in medical training in rural areas would encourage more students to choose rural locations after graduation.

“If you take young people who grew up in rural areas, provide them with medical education in rural settings, then they might be more likely to set up and stay in rural settings,” she said.

The Northern Medical Program (NMP) in Prince George had 30 graduates this year, including 14 graduates from Northern B.C. Out of the 30 graduates, nine are entering residency training programs in Northern B.C.

Sonya Kruger, Communications Officer for the NMP, said she is pleased with the number of NMP graduates who chose to continue living in the area.

“There were 21 family practice residency positions in Northern B.C, which were opened to new medical graduates from across Canada,” she said. “We consider it a success that nine of those 21 positions were filled by NMP graduates.”

Many medical students choose to practice in the place where they completed their medical education or residency training, she added.

A few months ago, medical student Arsalan Hassan had a chance to experience life in a small town for the first time.

Hassan has lived in the Lower Mainland since he was a child. At the end of 2014, he had the opportunity to work in Burns Lake for four weeks as part of his medical program.

“Burns Lake was definitely the most time I’ve spent in a fairly small town,” he said. “When I had the chance to live there for a month, I was surprised at how satisfied I felt.”

“It was easy to make friends,” he said. “I felt like part of the community and I had a rich social life with many interesting activities including going to the gym, curling, hiking and playing hockey.”

Hassan is finishing his third year of medical school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. According to him, working in small communities such as Burns Lake has many advantages over working in bigger centres.

“Rural communities have less specialist coverage, and thus the general practitioner gets to have a very wide scope of practice,” he said. “The variety is very interesting to me; I think you get less variety in the middle of a big city.”

“Plus real estate is so cheap, you can have an amazing house by the water, and with the money you save you can go travelling more often,” he added. “I think I could be quite happy to settle down in a small town.”

 

Just Posted

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

A Pacific Salmon Foundation grant of $3,000 is going towards the tree plantations. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)
550 trees planted in Houston through A Rocha

Houston Christian School students and volunteers help with the tree planting

Currently the Houston station has 16 paramedics, two ambulances and one community paramedic vehicle. (File photo)
Retirement of longtime paramedics worries Houston community

“No loss of service,” assures BC Emergency Health Services

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Most Read