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Family doctor shortage to worsen

Medical society actively recruiting

Finding a family doctor continues to be a problem for Powell River residents. With more doctors retiring or leaving or just having difficulty finding a long-term replacement for their practice, the problem may deteriorate before it recovers.

Dr. Vidushi Mittra Melrose has decided to permanently close her Namastay Medical Clinic at the end of the year because she can’t find a temporary replacement doctor. This will leave more residents in the community without a family doctor.

Dr. Chris Morwood, co-chair of Powell River Division of Family Practice, a non-profit medical society, said there is a nationwide shortage of family physicians. He cites a lack of rural locums, or temporary replacement doctors, and increasing rates of retirements and departures. The society is working on attracting more doctors to Powell River.

“We are deeply concerned for those without a family doctor and also for the remaining family doctors working to service the needs of the community,” said Morwood.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, there aren’t any family doctors in Powell River who are currently accepting new patients.

Powell River residents without family doctors have only one option until more family doctors become available: going to the emergency room at Powell River General Hospital.

Recruiting new doctors is a challenge for rural communities across the province.

“Powell River’s not as hard as some other places, but it’s not as easy as recruiting to the Lower Mainland or North Vancouver,” said Dr. Richard Lupton, co-senior medical director for Vancouver Coastal Heath coastal community care.

A big part of the problem is that rural general practitioners have a much more challenging job than their urban counterparts, said Lupton.

Rural general practitioners often have to “cover general practitioner anaesthesia, obstetrics, cover the emergency department and other duties. They’re not necessarily available to do a 50-hour week in the office, what a typical general practitioner would work.”

Lupton said in order to work in a rural community doctors have to be prepared to offer a range of services which many of the new graduates don’t want to offer.

“We get a lot of graduates coming out of the Family Practice Residency Program and they want to do an office practice in an urban environment,” he said.

In Powell River some progress has been made and local doctors are working together to try to improve the situation, said Morwood. The provincial government is developing a recruitment and incentive program to bring more doctors to rural communities.

There has been some success in meeting the community’s need. The society was able to recruit a highly qualified international medical graduate for next summer . Dr. Martin Andreae started at Dr. Dan Lafferty’s practice in September. The society’s locum committee is starting several initiatives to attract locum physicians, including developing a website, attending medical job fairs, creating welcome/orientation packages, registering in provincial locum matching services, creating a Facebook page and creating attractive locum contracts.

“We have submitted a proposal for a large provincial government recruitment grant and expect to hear back about it this month,” said Morwood.

Until more doctors come to Powell River the community will have to continue to use the hospital emergency room as a walk-in clinic, he said. He expects more retirements this year.

“The emergency room department is working on strategies to streamline non-emergency visits, but currently average wait times are around one and a half to two hours,” he said.

Morwood suggests going to the emergency room before 10 am on a weekday to avoid long waits. He also suggests making lifestyle choices that improve health by accessing provincial help lines for physical activity, diet counselling, smoking cessation, self-management of chronic conditions and mental health counselling. Further help can be found by dialing the general nurses’ hotline at 811 in BC.