A packed room of residents learned Monday night the current shortage of family physicians in this region isn’t likely to get better any time soon.
About 175 people packed a room at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre — they spilled into the hallways and outside — to hear a presentation by Dr. Mark Morris of the Oceanside Division of Family Practice. Morris said the region is currently short 10 family physicians and the situation could get worse because 10-14 GPs are planning to retire in the next five-10 years.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada suggests a family doctor should have about 1,200 patients. Here, Morris said doctors are carrying as many as 2,500 patients and there are approximately 4,500 people without a family physician in this region of 46,000.
“You can imagine the wait times (to get an appointment) when there are this many patients a physician is looking after,” said Morris a family doctor based in Parksville. “For me, that’s tough to swallow — as a physician we want to look after our patients.”
After presenting all the numbers, Morris showed the crowd what is being done, and what could be done, to help the situation. He said a group of politicians, health professionals, residents’ associations, business leaders and physicians has formed to address the problems.
“We are really trying to solve this problem as a community,” he said.
Morris said the creation of larger clinics could be one way to attract more physicians. He said doctors, especially new grads, are more concerned about a balance in their lives.
They are more inclined to practise where they know there are other doctors in the clinic who can cover for them when they want to take time off. These physicians would also like to spend less time administering the business side of their practice, which could be alleviated by a large-model clinic.
“We have a lot of headaches that are associated with any business,” said Morris. “The newer physicians really don’t want that. They want to come in and just practise medicine and I really don’t blame them.”
The division’s GP for Me program co-ordinator Shelly McNeil explained how the people of Gabriola Island had some success in that regard. She said they started a society and foundation to raise money, build a clinic and is “now fully staffed with physicians.”
Recruitment efforts continue in Parksville Qualicum Beach, but Morris and McNeil said two recent visitors chose to practise in Nanaimo because of the size and structure of the clinics here.
During a question/answer period, one resident asked if there was an opportunity to make offers to family physicians in Fort McMurray who may be without patients for many months as that city rebuilds after a devastating forest fire destroyed thousands of homes.
“We don’t want to be poaching in a bad time,” said Morris. “I don’t want to be giving our area a bad name.”
Morris said the division will consider another public meeting on the issue soon.
“What we’ve gathered from this is there’s a lot of public interest — I think we will have another event.”