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Health care professional recruitment on right track in Centre Wellington

When it comes to health care recruitment and retention, Alison Armstrong and Dr. Sarah Gower believe Centre Wellington is on the right track.

Armstrong, a health care recruiter, and Gower,  a local physician, were at Centre Wellington council on Jan. 27 to present the annual report from the Community Stakeholders Group for Health Care Recruitment and Retention.

Gower, who recently moved her office to Elora, continues to work at the Fergus hospital alongside other local physicians.

“We’re certainly very grateful for council’s support of the recruitment and retention program for health care professionals,” Gower said.

“Our main goal is improving and increasing our health care recruitment and retainment.”

She stressed the importance of bringing new health care professionals into the community - and holding on to the ones who are here.

“Generally we’ve done a good job of that,” said Gower.

One major focus in the past year was the medical training program and bringing students and medical residents into town. Gower estimated 73 medical students and/or residents came through Centre Wellington in the past year.

Gower said most of the medical residents have finished their training and are looking to be family physicians, while some are looking to get into specialty fields of medicine.

The idea is to generate interest in the community during the visit in the hope that some will decide to work in Centre Wellington sometime down the road.

Armstrong noted that currently there is an active recruitment underway for a general practice/anesthetist.

Gower added the newest recruit to the area, Dr. Morgan Kwiatkoski, a family physician, was one of the many medical residents to visit Centre Wellington.

“Most of the recent recruits in the past five years, have at one point come through Centre Wellington,” said Gower, adding another recent recruit is Dr. Jonathon Love, internal medicine specialist.

Part of recruitment includes coordinating and promoting site visits, Gower explained.

“We put together a tour and show them around the clinics,” she said.

Gower noted Armstrong attends the Health Professionals Recruitment Tour, which travels across the province and provides another method of enticing medical professionals to Centre Wellington.

Gower said now there is not a huge gap in terms of family physicians.

“Right now we are looking at the replacement of Centre Wellington physicians who are thinking about retirement in the next four to five years.”

Gower added, “Physicians are notoriously bad at retirement planning. We’re trying to encourage transition planning.”

She added, “Often it takes two or three or four of my generation of physicians to replace the retiring ones - to devote the time to those very large practices.”

Armstrong added, “Having good access to primary care providers in a community is an important indicator of the overall viability and health of a community. Centre Wellington clearly understands this relationship given its past interest and investments in recruitment efforts.”

Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj was pleased with the ongoing reports to keep in touch with council “on the remarkable work that you are doing.

“The community should be very grateful for the results, because many years back we thought we were going to be in a crisis situation.”

Councillor Walt Visser said that 14 years ago when the recruitment committee started, the area had two physicians who were teaching. Now there are teaching physicians in every practice.

Visser also commented on the current wait list.

Gower said that historically the hospital in many small towns would keep the wait list of people looking for a family doctor.

Now that work is done through a centralized Health Care Connect, Gower explained.

“As physicians we decided to switch over to the provincial system. If we want to take on new patients, we contact them.”

Those on the waiting list are prioritized according to time of registration and severity of illness.

“The latest numbers indicate about 48 people on the Health Care Connect waiting list.”

While Gower considered the low number great by any community standard, for those on the list it can still be a long wait.

Visser suggested “there are very few communities in Ontario who can make the same claim on the low numbers.”

Gower agreed.

Councillor Kirk McElwain noted Visser had earlier indicated there were health care professionals looking for new patients.

Gower explained Health Care Connect attempts to connect patients with the most local doctor.

She stated that while there are no Centre Wellington physicians registered as looking for patients, there are some in Guelph who are.

Councillor Fred Morris asked what the attractions and weaknesses were in attracting potential recruits.

Gower said, “the weakest point in a way is almost our shortage of patients.”

While it may sound strange, Gower believed it was a strength of the community as well.

Gower, who used to work up north, said it can be intimidating to young doctors when there are 1,500 people on a wait list.

“In a sense, our success is tricky for a recruit who is looking to have a practice right from the start.”

The other negative aspect is that some people do not want to begin in a small community.

“They only want 9-5. None of us do that here.”

Gower considered the small town community as a strength, “my husband and I were looking exactly for that. We picked this community because of that.”

Armstrong considered the area’s greatest strengths are the local medical and the reputation of Groves Memorial Community Hospital - and the community itself.

Morris then asked whether community sponsorship is much of a factor in recruitment.

Gower contended, “the communities standing with the $150,000 cheques asking for physicians to come to the community - people stay away from those communities. They get scared off.”

However, she agreed that for new graduates, there is a high debt load.

“We are able to help them a little bit with office expenses.”

She added that people who chose to locate in a community because of the financial incentive may feel bad when they don’t want to stay in the community for the long term.

“I think we have a nice balance. We want people to come here for the right reasons.”

Gower noted that in this community there is a wide variation in the number of patients per doctor.

She estimated the current range is from 550-600 up to about 2,000.

“The average newer grad looking for 800 to 1,200,” she explained.

January 31, 2014


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