Recruitment challenges reaching ‘crisis’ level for health care system

MAPLETON – Councillors here heard local health care recruitment challenges have reached “crisis” level.

Mapleton council approved a $10,000 contribution to assist with the work of the local health care professional recruitment committee on June 14, following an update from Mapleton-Minto Health Care Recruitment representatives Alison Armstrong and Dr. Christine Peterkin.

Armstrong explained local recruiters are currently facing serious challenges.

“We’re in a bit of a healthcare recruitment crisis right now,” she told council.

“The past two years with COVID has been very difficult on our hospitals, as you can imagine, and our staff. And unfortunately, some people have decided to retire, which is good for them – and same with some of our physicians – or decided to move around, sort of rethink the way they’re doing things.”

Armstrong pointed out rural hospitals “operate very differently than our urban counterparts. 

“So our family physicians, such as Christine, are not only your family physician in your community, but they also work at our hospital … they are the emerg doc, the OB doc, your inpatient doctor, they look after long-term care homes,” she stated.

“They do so much more than just their clinic work, so it’s important for people to realize that when we’re recruiting to our rural areas, we’re really recruiting for specialized positions.”

Armstrong added, “It’s not just related to Minto-Mapleton, or even the province, it’s across Canada and across the world right now.”

While local officials are confident they can recruit the professionals needed here, “It’s just going to take more than what we’ve done in the past,” said Armstrong.

The local committee is currently recruiting not only for physicians, but also nurses, lab techs and diagnostic imaging techs. A social media campaign focusing on the positive aspects of rural medicine is among the tools the committee is using.

“We choose to practice rural medicine because of all the wonderful things, wearing the many hats … We also, because of our location, we’re eligible for government grants which helps our new grads pay off student loans,” said Armstrong.

“We have free parking, which is very unheard of these days at hospitals, free coffee and tea, I could go on and on.” She noted the committee has received “a lot of positive feedback” on the campaign.

“However, it’s going to take more than that,” she stressed, noting Peterkin “has been working hard in terms of bringing medical trainees into the local system.

“When we have a medical trainee come and they’re in their last two years of training, we introduce them to rural health care and hope we can kind of hold on to them. The problem is, again, there’s less grads for the positions that are available right now.”

Armstrong said the ongoing financial support from local municipalities “makes a huge difference.”

However, she added, “We’re going to have to do more than that in terms of our partnerships and what we can offer people when we’re trying to attract them to come to our communities. 

“It’s not just a physician we’re looking at, it’s an entire family,” she added.

“So we’re trying to find jobs, sometimes for spouses. It’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s all the things people are looking at when they come to a community and working with the municipality on that, and with our partners, makes a huge difference.”

Peterkin said recruitment “has never been more of a priority than it is right now, especially for rural Wellington.

“And the problem is, as Alison intimated, everyone else is in the same boat. So we’re competing with rural communities, urban communities, who are looking for the same bodies,” she added.

“The day of being a Jack and Jill, of all trades is, unfortunately, a thing of the past. And many young physicians are looking for a well-paced career, where they can balance their home life, be well compensated for their time and feel supported by their peers.”

Peterkin added, “I feel really and truly at this point, we need to pivot how we approach recruitment. And we need to capitalize on what we do well, which is provide a welcoming environment where you can meet someone for the first time and feel like they’re an old friend. 

“We need to showcase supportive communities through things like opportunities where the municipalities can give breaks to new folks coming in.” 

She suggested local municipalities could consider providing “special breaks for housing, or for taxes, or things like that

“I’m not sure how many other communities are doing this,” Peterkin said. “But I think that it would definitely set us apart in terms of being able to offer something that will potentially attract somebody who hadn’t considered us before.”

Councillor Dennis Craven said he understand the importance of local health care.

“If we have to drive an hour or an hour and a half to see a doctor every time we want to see one it’s a real pain, and a lot of people probably wouldn’t bother going. Then they’d stay at home and not be healthy. Thank you for what you do,” said Craven.

Councillor Michael Martin asked how the committee is dealing with the enhanced expectations of potential recruits.

“How do you MacGyver a system where you still get your needs met, but the work/life balance of the new demographic of recruits works too?” he asked.

Peterkin replied, “The tradition in rural medicine has always been, you just do everything, right? You come here to do everything. But we’re realizing more and more that it’s not sustainable.”

She added the focus is on encouraging recruits to be involved in their preferred area of medicine, “but the expectation is still going to be that we’re going to try to massage you into doing something else, like one other thing. And so that’s the place where we’ve been, I guess, trying to be creative, in terms of how we present ourselves.”

Armstrong said the committee has been open to bringing in international medical graduates, even though that requires supervision from the existing pool of physicians who are “already overworked.” 

The committee has also looked at marketing outside Ontario for health care professionals.

Mayor Gregg Davidson told the delegation Mapleton officials were prepared to help in any way they can.

“If we need to go out to help you recruit people, we will come with you to do that … so don’t hesitate to ask,” he said.