Doctor recruitment to be centralized, minister says

Doctor recruitment to be centralized, minister says
Health Minister Tom Beaulieu.Photo: GNWT.

It’s an age-old story in the Northwest Territories: Northerners left with no option but to report their health and medical narratives over and over again to a slew of passing-through locum doctors.

It’s no secret securing long-term doctors in the NWT is a challenge, says Health Minister Tom Beaulieu, and it’s not something the department of Health and Social Services is turning a blind eye to.

Department staff are currently in the process of developing a health and social services human resources plan to “centralize” the doctor recruitment process with all NWT health authorities.

“This will be developed this fiscal year. We have already selected who will head this plan…In it, we’ll be looking for options to ensure a coordinated recruitment of physicians right across the NWT rather than having all authorities competing with each other for doctors, which has been happening in the past,” he said in an interview with The Journal.

“We have 4.5 positions in Fort Smith with only two filled. We’re actively trying to fill those other two….There are a total of seven positions in Hay River, with one filled now, two open in Norman Wells, two in Fort Simpson…We do have an additional five doctors out of nine positions filled in Inuvik in the last year,” he said. “I’m hoping next year, with the help of this plan, even more are filled.”

While Beaulieu could not release specific details of the plan, he said further discussion on it and better ways to recruit doctors will occur at the end of this month during a joint leadership conference in Yellowknife. The conference will include the NWT’s newest doctor, Dr. Coralie Boudreau, who started a three-year contract in Hay River last month. The Hay River Health and Social Services Authority spent almost six years in its quest for a permanent doctor.

A number of different and innovative recruitment strategies are being brainstormed for the plan, including more coordinated partnerships with medical associations as well as tapping into groups of physicians interested in the outdoors, Beaulieu said.

“We want to find doctors that are interested in being closer to nature because we can offer that in the NWT. For example, one of the authorities went and talked to some of the local tour operators…and found a lot of doctors came up to do canoeing…We could try to look in those areas for recruits, take a more streamlined approach,” he said.

The plan also speaks to incorporating flexibility when it comes to the living arrangements of permanent doctors.

Doctors who recoil at the idea of working in a remote and isolated community for a long period of time will have the option of making their main home base in Yellowknife, according to the new plan, Beaulieu said.

“One of the key things we plan on doing is offering individual doctors who feel like they don’t want to be outside of a major centre the option of living in Yellowknife but still be flying in and working as a designated Fort Smith doctor or Norman Wells doctor,” he explained.

While that option is also not ideal and the details would have to be further worked out, it is better than having a slew of locums passing through each year, Beaulieu noted.

So far, the Northern health authorities have responded positively to the plan underway to centralize and boost recruitment.

“They’d like to see a change and see the same doctors over and over in their communities. People in Hay River were seeing on average 37 different doctors in a year. Everyone recognizes this is not an efficient system. Plus, it’s costly,” Beaulieu said.

British Columbia recently unveiled a new incentive to attract more long-term doctors to remote communities.

In March, the BC government and the BC Medical Association partnered to offer the new Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive, where doctors receive a one-time payment of $100,000 when they commit to a three-year return of service in 17 designated rural communities.

Participating physicians receive $50,000 when they begin working in the community and the remaining $50,000 will be paid once they have completed one year of service.

According to Beaulieu, the NWT isn’t looking to bring in a similar incentive – at least not yet.

“I’m not sure we’re looking at paying huge bonuses for people to come here…We have a competitive salary package,” he said.

The NWT also offers a medical student bursary to Northern students enrolled full time in a faculty of medicine at a Canadian university and two years of residency worth up to $70,000 over five years.

Qualifying students will then commit to fulfilling a Return of Service contract as a physician in the NWT at a location to be negotiated between the student, the department and the health authority.

“I think we have 24 NWT residents being supported through this program as medical students currently,” Beaulieu said. “I think we’ve missed out on some opportunity here…Some students were missed that should have been brought back up here. Somehow it fell through the cracks and we missed out on a couple of doctors that were from the NWT, so I’m asking the department to really step up this program and stay in touch with our medical students and push for these guys to come back to the NWT to practice when they’re finished.”

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  • Marco Terwiel
    May 22, 2013, 9:50 PM

    Having worked off and on in Nunavut in the Kivalliq for the past nine years and one brief locum in the Northwest Territories specifically Kugluktuk, I find a number of interesting ideas in the article. Especially being based in Yellowknife but being the designated MD for a different community. Even though the financial incentives are somewhat helpful it hardly compensates for the hardships of life in the North unless your spouse is also gainfully employed in a profession that provides satisfaction and opportunities for personal growth

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