Doctor recruitment needs to stay a priority

Even with recent successes bringing doctors to the Centre  Wellington area, there are still over 1,000 people on a waiting list to get a family doctor, says Dr. Nicole Petrov, who serves on the local recruitment committee.

Petrov told council’s committee of the whole on Monday night about the need for continued efforts. She has been a physician in the community for about 10 years now.

She was also at the meeting to present the 2011 report from the community stakeholders group for health professionals recruitment.

The purpose of the report is to provide council with an update on recruitment endeavours over the past year. It stated recruitment is a vital link within the community for the physical health and economic vitality of the municipality.

“To bring you up to date on that, we are still significantly under serviced in terms of health care professionals,” Petrov said.

She explained there has been considerable “focus in the past number of years to continue to bring new doctors into our community. We still have about 1,000 people on our wait list at the hospital.”

She said she hopes “as new physicians come to town, we can take people off that list.”

The list is not exclusive, and there are a number of people in the community who do not have their names on it. She hopes that number is “just a small portion of the people. But there are still people in our community with no family doctor.

“It means they have to go to the emergency department – just to get basic health care.”

Petrov explained the committee works to encourage physicians to choose the township for their practices.

“But the status of our health care system is such that everywhere is under serviced right now,” she said. Because of that, she added doctors have the opportunity to go absolutely anywhere.

“So we need to remain competitive and encourage them here – not only to maintain the health status of our community, but it is important for the community as a whole. When people move to a community, they want to know they have access to health care.”

Petrov noted she has had patients who moved away from the community but came back because in the community they had gone to, they couldn’t get health care.

She also has patients from London, St. Thomas, Hamilton and Owen Sound who drive here to get health care, because they cannot get physicians in the communities they’ve moved to.

“It really speaks to me when I see the new subdivisions being built. It is very exciting for the community, but as I drive by them, I panic about who is going to look after these people medically,” Petrov said.

She thanked Chief Administrative Officer Michael Wood and councillor Walt Visser, who have been supportive of the doctor recruitment efforts. Council has also been financially supportive she said.

Some of those funds have gone to the development of a new website to promote the area to medical students. That site also provides numerous links to the community, Petrov added.

“We’ve been able to continue to be active in a medical student program, which allow for medical students in residence.”

Petrov said, “A lot of our new recruits have come through this program. They come, they work with us, and we mentor them.”

She noted Dr. Julie Ray, who had just joined Petrov’s practice, was one of the first medical students she hosted in the program.

“It’s a really effective initiative.”

She considers it a strong point that this is a community where the physicians are ready to do that.

Petrov also cited efforts of its health care recruiter. “She’s dedicated an enormous amount of time speaking with interested physicians.

That person also attends the annual job fair which goes from medical school to medical school.

Recent recruitment successes include Dr. Alison Williams, Dr. Amanda Kamminga, and Dr. Julie Ray.

“We’ve recruited three new physicians just in the past year,” said Petrov. “My concern with that is that we are not going to be able to maintain the status quo.”

She said despite the new recruits, two doctors are looking to retire. “We’re attracted new physicians, but at the same time we are barely treading water.”

Future plans include continuing to work with doctors, especially those considering retirement, and get them involved in the process.

“We’re going to continue to help new physicians move to our community.”

She cited a physician from British Columbia looking to relocate here.

There is a tremendous financial cost, Petrov said.

She really wants to lower the number of individuals on the local waiting list.

Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj thanked Petrov and the committee for the work done.

“It’s just heartwarming and reassuring that we haven’t let this down, or stopped in the efforts to be bring health care professionals into town.”

Visser said he had attended a number of the job fairs. “I think the big thing that sets us off from other municipalities is all the other municipalities have the old doctors walking with their canes trying to recruit young people into their communities. Here, we have vibrant young physicians such as Petrov.”

Councillor Kelly Linton asked what council could do to further these efforts in the next four years.

Petrov said there are two main fronts in terms of the groups ability – finances and time to show people through the community.

“There’s an enormous number of hours even reading through emails, taking people around the community, all these evenings and weekends.”