Diverse group of stakeholders tries to tackle the family physician shortage in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Local community leaders and physicians are trying to find unique ways to attract doctors to the region

A national challenge is getting unique treatment in Parksville Qualicum Beach.

Led by the Oceanside Division of Family Practice (ODFP), the Perfect Storm Group has been meeting since September to identify ways to address the family physician shortage in the region.

The group has brought together doctors, politicians, business leaders, health administrators and others who want to come up with made-in-Parksville Qualicum Beach solutions to combat troubling trends.

The raw numbers could be seen as daunting. This region of approximately 46,000 people should be served by 38 family physicians, according to the doctor/patient ratio recommended by the College of Family Physicians of Canada. We currently have 24 full-time-equivalent family doctors, with 10-14 of them planning for retirement. An estimated 4,500 residents here are without a family doctor.

“Things were looking pretty bleak,” said Dr. Mark Morris, the ODFP’s physician lead for its GP for ME program. “I think now we see the community coming together, we see a plan formulating.”

In an interview at the Oceanside Health Centre this week, Morris said there are many hurdles for communities to overcome when they are looking to attract doctors, and they aren’t all about money.

Morris said physicians, especially the younger ones coming out of med school, are interested in a more balanced lifestyle and less interested in dealing with the business side of a practice.

That means they are looking to be part of clinic with a number of physicians so they can get some time off and also share costs, or perhaps pay a set percentage of their earnings and have someone else take care of the business side (staff, payroll, supplies, equipment, lease agreements, etc.).

“That way, they can just practise medicine and not worry about the business aspect of it,” said Morris. “It boils down to concerns about small practices and the costs to starting a practice.”

The Perfect Storm Group wants to investigate options for family physicians, which may include opening clinics in currently vacant office space.

“We’re not looking for a free ride for the physicians,” said Morris.

Federation of Oceanside Residents Association president Tom Davies said the Perfect Storm Group was put together after meetings called Mayors’ Breakfasts last fall.

“Everybody in the room got it,” said Davies. “But part of being in a group like that is the answers don’t all come in a few months.”

A lack of family physicians is a wider issue for the community, its economy and its future, said Davies.

“If you don’t have a doctor, who wants to live here?” said Davies.

The formulation of the Perfect Storm Group seems to be providing the ODFP and others with some light to what could be seen as an all-dark tunnel.

“I think there are positives,” said Morris.

Shelly McNeil, the GP for Me project manager of the ODFP, agreed.

“Our community partners have really stepped up and that’s quite unique,” she said.

For more information about the ODFP, the GP for Me project or the Perfect Storm Group, e-mail:

tfitzgerald@divisionsbc.ca.