Recruitment committee seeks support as physician shortage looms

With the Minto-Mapleton area about to lose two long-serving doctors to retirement in the next year, council here was asked for both moral and financial support for physician recruitment efforts.

Council agreed to consider a request for a $10,000 contribution to local health professional recruitment efforts in 2013 budget deliberations after hearing from members of the local recruitment committee at the Nov. 20 meeting.

“In Minto-Mapleton, over the next year, we are preparing for the retirement of two long-standing physicians,” one each in Drayton (Dr. Chris Donald) and Harriston (Dr. John Vanderkooy), stated Shirley Borges, chair of the Minto-Mapleton Health Professional Recruitment Committee in a report to council.

“We are also aware of other physicians in our area who will be planning retirement in the next five to 10 years. Without successful recruitment, the shortage of family physicians threatens not only the health and well being of residents of our communities, but also our communities’ potential for growth.”

Despite increased interest in the area from new physicians, Borges said, “competition for a limited supply of rural physicians continues to be strong.”

While the committee’s general mandate is recruitment of all types of health care professionals, Dr. Christopher Cressey, medical lead for the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team, said, “right now, we are focusing on the recruitment of physicians.”

Borges noted the FHT has recently added one physician, Dr. Hao Sun, working out of the clinic in Drayton, but more will be needed to keep pace with demand.

Cressey noted North Wellington Health Care’s planned construction of the Minto Rural Health Centre at the Palmerston and District Hospital site is vital to local recruitment efforts. Cressey says graduating physicians are looking to work in a team environment in a clinic setting.

“You can’t recruit to a solo practice. Nobody wants that,” said Cressey. “These kids are brilliant. They can go wherever they want,” he added.

Clinic environment

“They are looking for a clinic environment that’s up and running and handles the business end of things and has some older physicians around that they can call on for help when they need it.”

Allison Armstrong, NWHC health care recruiter, said , “There’s lots of interest. Our challenge is space right now.”

Cressey urged council to continue to support the completion of the rural health centre in order to assist with recruitment efforts. In September, an architectural firm was hired to design the facility. Cressey says he would like to see the project move to the construction phase as soon as possible.

“I can sell a hole in the ground. I can’t sell architects’ drawings. Everyone has seen architects’ drawings and they could be 10 years down the road,” he explained.

Minto Deputy Mayor Terry Fisk asked if there was anything council could do in terms of contacting health ministry or Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) officials to keep the project moving forward, “given how severe the shortage is and that we need this new medical centre sooner rather than later.”

“I think that would be a good signal,” said Borges.

Borges said to be successful, “multi-pronged recruitment strategies,” are required as “we have discovered no single strategy works.”

In addition to the establishment of the rural health centre, ongoing recruitment activities include:

–    marketing initiatives targeting young physicians and nurses;

–    supporting rural learning experiences and programs for medical students;

–    attendance at health professional recruitment tour events sponsored by Health Force Ontario;

–    hosting prospective physicians for community site visits; and

–    increasing locum opportunities.

The committee stated in its report members believe their work “will become even more important as we face the reality of physician retirement over the next few years.”