New strategies to recruit and help find family doctors
How doctors are recruited in southwestern Ontario is changing, and so are the methods people are using to find a family doctor in their area.
Family physician Dr. Craig Albrecht studied in London and Waterloo, Ont., trained in New Brunswick, practiced in Huron County and volunteered in West Africa.
Now he works in Cambridge. Albrecht says "I looked at several different centres in the area, and this one was available. We hadn't initially considered Cambridge as an option, but when this came up we started looking at it more."
He's talking about Langs Farm Village Association. It's a community health centre where he can practice in a group setting.
It's the type of practice option new doctors seem to like.
Dr. Alexander Pessoa of the Doctor Recruitment Task Force – Cambridge says "The trend now is to set up these family health teams…that have a much more diverse options both for patients and for physicians."
But for medical students, too many options can also be problematic.
Medical student Alexandra Choi says "I think, umm, family's on the table, but I think I was also looking at specialized surgeries."
Just over 40 per cent of new graduates choose to pursue family medicine, so some say ‘convincing' them to practice in certain communities should start in the classroom.
Pessoa says "We have ads that we put in some of the medical posts, in the medical newsletters that go out to graduating students. We also use some educational programs that we offer to students when they're still going through their educational process, and we offer residency locums in order to introduce doctors to our community and what we have."
But the shortage of family physicians has made the process of recruiting doctors far more competitive.
Ian Mclean, president and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, says "The new docs, when they're studying, they know they're in demand. They can go wherever they like."
He adds, "Kitchener-Waterloo, in this context, is competing with other municipalities locally and other municipalities right across the province."
The Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care say they're looking at how they can develop more facilities like community health centres to draw in new doctors.
Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews says "We've got more family health teams opening up, more nurse practitioner clinics opening up."
Connecting with a family doctor
So while the recruitment push continues, so does the search for a family doctor for many Waterloo Region residents.
So Young Lee says she has searched online and in the phone book, but she hasn't found anyone who is accepting new patients. She's not alone.
Priscilla Yamal contacted her local Chamber of Commerce and was referred to a Web site, and says "I kept calling doctors and nobody accepted new patient."
It took ten months before she was able to connect with a new doctor in Kitchener.
The Ministry of Health suggests you register with its Web site Health Care Connect if you're still looking for a doctor. You can find it at: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/public/
Matthews says "It's actually a service that links people who are looking for primary health care to those family doctors."
Reports say about half the people who have registered on the site have been connected with a health care provider, both in Waterloo-Wellington and across Ontario.
But your name does go on a waiting list, and patients with what are considered ‘high needs' are a priority.
For now, So Young says she'll try to avoid having the need in the first place.
"I try to stay healthy. That's the best solution for me right now, sadly."