North Okanagan clinics look overseas to find doctors

Doctor shortages felt countrywide, but rural areas hardest hit

Only one full-time family doctor is currently serving more than 6,000 people relying on the health-care facility in Lumby, but this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon in rural areas said Ev Reade, chairperson of Lumby and District Health Services Society (LDHSS). However, she said finding more doctors is a challenge.

Reade said the LDHSS advertised across Canada and didn’t receive a single application, but she said she is feeling “hopeful” that new doctors can be found internationally.

Five international medical graduates have applied to work in Lumby, but the final decision does not rest with the applicant or the Health Society. Rather, the international graduate program coordinators will have final say based on needs of the communities that applied and the graduates’ skill sets, Reade explained.

“Hopefully we get one of these international graduates,” she said. “If we do get one, they would start in the summer of 2020.”

Reade said the non-profit organization she represents offers the international graduates tours of the Health Centre and the community to show them the rural life.

“The stated comments have been they like the area,” she said. “They’re happy with the clinic, happy with the support. Our last applicant we had — so far, Lumby is his first choice, but he had other (communities) he had to go to.”

“Lumby is such a beautiful area if you’re an outdoor enthusiast at all,” Reade said. “There’s lakes, hiking, horseback riding, hang gliding and we’re so close to SilverStar and Big White and four-to-five hours from Vancouver.

“We have a little more to offer than some other rural areas with our close proximity to larger centres,” she said.

Patients feel the short(age) end of the stick

The doctor shortage is being felt in communities across Canada, Reade said, but there is great incentive to work in British Columbia’s rural areas.

“The B.C. government and Doctors of BC offer a one-time payment of $9,000 if you come and set up in a rural community,” she said, noting doctors also receive a reimbursement of three per cent of MSP billings.

But ultimately, doctors choose where they want to live and work and its the patients in rural communities that suffer.

“They’re frustrated because it’s difficult for many to have access,” Reade said.

The doctor shortage affects the continuity of care, Reade said.

“A lot of people don’t bother and of course, that compounds their medical issues if it’s left too late.”

Transportation presents a major barrier that is underscored by the shortage of health-care providers in rural areas.

Bus service in Lumby is not adequate for patients, especially those with mobility issues, to utilize for health-care purposes and taxi services, Reade said, are a costly option that challenges those living on a limited income.

A part-time physician is serving the community to help fill the gap, Reade said. And Lumby has been green-lighted to hire a nurse practitioner by Interior Health although a start date has yet to be determined.

In a perfect world…

Reade said “hypothetically” allowing medical professionals to complete some of their practicum serving small communities could be helpful.

“They deal with the same issues in the big city or a small town,” Reade said.

“Illness is illness.”


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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