The arrival of two new doctors to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area this fall will ease the local shortage of family physicians.
But it won’t actually close the gap to full coverage.
“The good news is we’re welcoming two new family physicians in the fall,” said Sharon Todd, co-ordinator of the Oceanside Division of Family Practice recruitment and retention program, in a presentation to Parksville city council Monday . “The not-so-good news is, we’re recruiting to a deficit. These physicians are replacing one retiring physician, and one existing vacancy that’s been around for a few months. They’re not brand-new and joining the already huge pool of physicians we already have.”
Todd appeared before council as a delegation with Dr. Peter Haslett, co-chair of the ODFP. The two announced the arrival in October of David and Mirke Owen, a married physician couple originally from the U.K. who will be moving from Terrace.
Todd and Haslett also took the opportunity to share the scope of the physician shortage and efforts being taken to alleviate that shortage.
“We are very aware of the lack of GPs (general practitioners) and the difficulty we residents have in getting a family practitioner in Oceanside. It’s a national problem, it’s a provincial problem and it’s also an Island problem.”
Haslett then showed a slide showing the number of available openings for GPs on the mid-Island alone, including five in Campbell River, six in Courtenay-Comox, 11 in Nanaimo, eight in Victoria, two in Lantzville and three in Port Alberni.
“We in Parkville are competing with these communities for a limited number of doctors,” he said.
One of the group’s recruitment tools is a high-quality, tourism-style video, produced last summer by the Oceanside Division of Family Practice and shared with council Monday. Largely focussing on quality-of-life highlights and the natural environment of the region, it showed families enjoying outings on the beach — with conspicuous shots of the sandcastle-building competition in Parksville — and golfing, biking and hiking. Its scope extended to skiing on Mount Washington, the towering trees of Cathedral Grove and the surf off Tofino.
“Well, I certainly want to move here after seeing that,” Mayor Marc Lefebvre joked.
On a more serious note, Lefebvre said the physicians group would have the support of the city and from council in its recruitment efforts, and offered to host the two newcomers an orientation presentation on behalf of the city and council.
“We’re also interested in going out and sharing a meal where we can talk casually and find out what they might like to see and know more about,” Lefebvre told Haslett and Todd.
The physician shortage impacts current doctors’ ability to take vacation or even to retire when they might like, while making it difficult for many residents to access a family physician, said Haslett.
The shortage also has an economic impact, he said.
“There are huge savings to be made if we could attach every patient to a family physician,” he told council. “In B.C. alone we would save $80 million a year if they could be attached.
Haslett said the local region has a small pool of locum doctors, physicians who fill temporary vacancies for vacations and who assist with transitions and retirements. But there is no substitute for permanent, resident physicians, particularly young doctors like the Owens’, who plan to stick around for the long haul.
“I think they will be a big bonus,” said Haslett. ” We need more of them.”