New survey helps gauge doctor shortage in Nanaimo

NANAIMO – An estimated 41,000 people across Nanaimo and Gabriola Island are without a family doctor.

A network of Nanaimo doctors is taking the pulse of the city’s physician shortage with its first-ever community survey.

The Nanaimo Division of Family Practitioners has launched A GP for Me survey to help gauge local health care challenges through the eyes of the medical community and its patients.

The aim is to find a made-in-Nanaimo cure for improving primary care and access to physicians – an issue anticipated to become more challenging as 30 per cent of medical professionals become eligible to retire in the next five years.

Erin Hemmens, spokeswoman for the division, said an estimated 41,000 residents across Nanaimo and Gabriola Island are without a doctor, making pending retirements a “frightening” issue in an already underserved community.

The survey – a B.C. initiative paid for with a $375,000 government grant – will help the division understand what it will take to make the medical system more sustainable.

“This is the first time to our knowledge that a survey has been undertaken by community doctors to ask the community what they think the issues are [and] what challenges they face when they access care,” said Hemmens. “We are trying to put local knowledge to these bigger questions and issues [around medical care].”

The survey – which launched Monday – will look at at a broad range of issues from the barriers people face to accessing doctors to the relationships people have with their physicians. The medical community will also take part, sharing information on wait times for walk-in clinics and the numbers of patients they serve.

“At the end of the day it’s about improving how we deliver primary health care in Nanaimo and improve patients’ health,” said Dr. Melissa Oberholster, physician lead for the GP for Me advisory committee. “Research done shows patients who are attached to a GP and have a good relationship to a GP have better health outcomes overall.”

The results will help the division craft a proposal to change the way the local medical system works, including potentially hiring a full-time physician recruiter.

“I think we all have so many assumptions about what we need to do to fix health care, so to actually get good quality information will help us to be a bit more realistic,” Oberholster said.

The division of family practitioners is a not-for-profit that’s part of a provincial government initiative to see local providers decide how funding is used to improve health care.

“I have worked in health care long enough to recognize that a lot of decisions come from the top [down] and don’t necessarily carry the community voice,” said Hemmens. “This is using the knowledge in the local doctor community and the local community of patients to address needs and challenges they face every day.”

The survey is available at or by calling 250-591-1200.