Nanaimo struggles to find doctors

NANAIMO – Marketing and support offered to new doctors considering Nanaimo for their practice.

Five family doctors have moved to the Harbour City since the Division of Family Practice put a new recruiter on the job.

Six family medicine residents have decided to stay and four more doctors are coming this fall.

But if you’re one of 11,880 people in this region believed to be without a doctor, you’d still be hard pressed to find one.

The Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, a group that includes physicians, family medicine residents and hospitalists, has taken on the challenge of doctor recruitment and retention in Nanaimo with the help of a new recruitment coordinator, marketing and welcome packages.

It’s been a little more than a year and the organization is already celebrating successes, from creation of a new locum program that’s caught the attention of other Vancouver Island communities to reaching its recruitment goals with nine doctors by the end of this year. But recruiter Myla Yeomans-Routledge also acknowledges that the division’s efforts are only sustaining, not increasing, physician numbers.

A recent survey through the division shows that of 100 in-clinic family doctors in Nanaimo, 20-25 are expected to retire in the next three years. The majority of new doctors are taking over clinics, preventing the issue of orphaned patients from getting worse, but there are also currently no openings for people seeking a family doctor.

The division started up its recruitment push last July and will see double the number of doctors arrive than in the previous two fiscal years.

Island Health had been the primary recruiter until now for communities across Vancouver Island. Four doctors settled in Nanaimo in 2012-13, of 34 drawn to the Island, and two of 39 came here in 2013-14.

With the help of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, the two organizations are covering more ground at medical conferences. Nanaimo’s recruiter is personally reaching out to prospective doctors such as former family medicine residents to help persuade them to come to the Harbour City.

A new locum list has been created to better support residents looking to stay and temporarily take over family practice vacancies. The new list is a one-stop place for residents themselves to look at opportunities and they can pick and choose where they go. Other divisions covering Victoria, Cowichan, Oceanside and the Comox Valley have also come on board.

Communities are now working together to recruit locums, which is “huge,” Yeomans-Routledge said.

She is trying to spread the word that Nanaimo is looking for physicians. She attends conferences across the country to showcase the city and helps support physicians considering the area as their new home, from providing information, to helping spouses find jobs, to offering accommodation and airport pickup.

The division is also looking at creating a small welcome package and will be asking local businesses for help, from car rentals to discounts at recreation centres.

“Five recruits is a lot for Nanaimo and is a lot for the length of the program,” she said. “The numbers that we will have to eventually recruit are very, very high.”

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