Doctor recruitment an ongoing issue in Waterloo Region

WATERLOO REGION — Recruiting family doctors continues to be a vital pursuit in Waterloo Region.

“We have to be out selling this region as a place for doctors,” said Ian McLean, president of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.

“We need to be on top so we don’t start sliding back.”

Although recruitment efforts over the past 15 years or so have brought many new physicians to the area, many residents are without a family doctor.

“This has been an ongoing challenge,” McLean said. “I think we’ve come a long way.”

The region is growing while doctors are retiring, making recruitment an ongoing effort.

“It continues on,” said Donna Gravelle, physician recruitment co-ordinator for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber launched a formal task force in 2001 when the city faced a severe doctor shortage, leaving about 20,000 people without a family doctor. At the time, family doctors were in short supply across the province, particularly in rural areas.

“We were one of the first cities at the time to be designated as underserviced,” Gravelle said.

Now it is deemed “high needs.” Last year, the committee for Cambridge and North Dumfries recruited eight new family doctors. It recruited seven in 2016.

“It’s fairly steady every year,” Gravelle said.

In Kitchener and Waterloo, the recruitment effort started as a group of volunteers before the magnitude of the issue was realized. About 40,000 to 44,000 people in Kitchener, Waterloo and Woolwich Township were without family doctors.

“We started really digging in,” McLean said.

They got sponsors, primarily from the corporate sector because having an ample supply of family doctors was a big issue for companies who wanted to bring new talent here. One of the first questions prospective employees often would ask is whether they could get a doctor.

“This is economic development,” McLean said.

The chamber’s best estimate of the number of people currently without a family doctor is about 15,000.

McLean calls it a “work in progress.”

Both chambers have a full-time employee looking after doctor recruitment, focusing on making and maintaining connections. Both hold annual retreats for medical school residents to sell them not just on the area’s medical amenities, but also the community.

“It’s not just where they’re going to work. It’s where they live,” Gravelle said.

Selling the region as a great place to work and live is key because it is competing with other communities across the province, country and even world.

“Doctors can basically go anywhere,” McLean said.

Part of the challenge with recruiting enough doctors here is that those who are retiring generally have a larger roster of patients than new doctors want to take on, and new doctors often are looking for a group practice rather than a solitary practice.

“For every doctor that retires, we really need a doctor and a half,” McLean said.

Along with showcasing the region to medical residents to get them thinking early about where they’d like to practice, Gravelle said promoting short-term locums to fill in for maternity or other leaves lets practising doctors test the area.

“That’s a good way to get doctors into our community to try and sell them on our community.”

This article was written by Johanna Weidner for the Waterloo Region Record. Read the original article here.

Twitter: @WeidnerRecord