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Leaving no stone unturned

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With almost 150 vacancies for family physicians and specialists in the province, the senior director in charge at the Nova Scotia Health Authority is concerned.

But Grayson Fulmer said recruitment efforts are coming together to try to fill those vacancies, and the health authority is working with other agencies, such as the Department of Health and Wellness, Doctors Nova Scotia, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, and the Office of Immigration.

“We’re starting to see real success,” said Fulmer. “We’re leaving no stone unturned when it comes to our recruitment efforts.”

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He said there are three areas of major concern when it comes to shortages — psychiatry, as it’s a competitive market, has shortages in Cape Breton and the Northern Zone; anesthesiology, which is a high needs specialty; and emergency medicine, as it’s also highly competitive and emergency department doctors are more agile and more apt to move from site to site.

Fulmer said the health authority has been taking a number of different approaches when it comes to recruitment. Fifty collaborative practice teams have been added recently, increasing access to primary care.

Since April 2017, a total of 68 new family physicians have come on board.

“And since October 1, we have 21 that are in various stages of offerings,” said Fulmer.

Each month, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) compiles a report for the public titled ‘Finding a Primary Care Provider in Nova Scotia.’ It keeps track of those residents in the province who sign up to the NSHA’s ‘Need a Family Practice’ registry. It was launched November 1, 2016.

The October 2018 report notes 58,046 registrants not yet placed with a family practice. That makes up 6.3 per cent of the province’s population.

Fulmer said the health authority has a robust strategy in play, which consists of a variety of efforts.

Working with Dalhousie University’s Family Medicine Residency Training Program, 10 new residency spots were created throughout the province — six in the Northern Zone with the creation of a new site, two added to the existing site in Cape Breton, with one added in South West Nova. One position will be used for family medicine residents to gain additional clinical experience in an area that would enhance services in the community, such as mental health and addictions, or oncology.

The health authority is attending job fairs and conferences, and reaching out to medical schools across Canada. There’s also a recruitment team working now in the U.K. and London.

A new recruitment website (https://recruitment.nshealth.ca) was recently launched, which allows online visitors to check out what’s available in terms of positions, and gives them a chance to find out more about the province.

“We’ve seen 35 applicants or inquiries through the website already, but don’t have our full reporting back yet,” said Fulmer. “I can say it’s been very well received. All indications are very positive and many say it’s the right step forward.”

He said one of the challenges when it comes to family physicians is the health authority doesn’t always get notice when a doctor plans on retiring. Some do, he said, and they try to work with the doctor to have a plan in place.

That’s why the authority, he said, is focusing on the number of vacancies, which sits around 145.

“This is a very fluid number and changes on a day-to-day basis, as some doctors are stepping up to fill some of those holes,” Fulmer said.

SPECIALTY FOCUSED

In terms of recruiting specialists, Fulmore said it’s more focused work because of the nature of the profession.

“We’re attending more focused conferences. Take psychiatry for example. We’ve attended conferences in the U.K. and nationally, and have attended sub-specialty conferences as well. We’re focusing a lot on our conference presence to make sure we’re talking to as many people as possible,” he said.

They’re also in contact with residency programs across Canada, and working on a delegation to go to Alberta after making contact at a conference in Toronto. Targeted advertising in academic journals is also being done.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

A key factor to the recruitment effort, according to Fulmer, is ‘community connectedness.’

Some communities have seen the creation of a local recruitment group, which features local physicians, community and business leaders, and the health authority.

“As we bring people into the province, the best people to positively highlight the communities are those people who live in the communities,” said Fulmer, calling their support ‘invaluable.’ “We really want to reinforce the community roles in recruiting.”

NOT YET PLACED

According to the authority’s registry updated most recently on October 1, a total of 6,889 people in the Northern Zone had registered as without a care provider.

In Pictou County, the number of people who had found a provider by then was 1,456. The figure includes 64 in Pictou West and 1,392 elsewhere.

The total of those not yet placed in Pictou County was 2,410. The figure includes 572 in Pictou West and 1,838 elsewhere and represents 5.3 per cent of the listed county population of 45,668.

On the North Shore, including Tatamagouche and Pugwash, 539 have benefited from the registry to find a provider, while 548 people are still without primary care provider.