Being without a family doctor when you have a pituitary tumor in your brain is a scary prospect.
Nicole Deagle of Miminegash has been living this reality for the better part of a year.
When her family doctor, Dr. Herb Dickieson, retired last year after months of being on leave, Deagle immediately put herself on the patient registry.
But she says aside from a letter confirming her placement on the registry, she has had no further update from Health P.E.I. on when she might get another family physician.
“It’s a scary thought, not having a family doctor,” she said.
“I didn’t really understand that until it happened. I guess I just thought Dr. Dickieson would be there forever.”
Her tumor is under control, but she needs regular bloodwork. So, she has been booking herself in see a nurse practitioner at the O’Leary Health Centre. But so many other residents of West Prince are also without a family physician, these appointments are often backed up by two or three weeks, Deagle said.
That’s why she sometimes has to wait in outpatients at Western Hospital in Alberton.
“It’s silly. Even if you just have a flu and need medication, you have to go to outpatients and sit there for five to six hours sometimes,” she said.
Deagle is one of approximately 3,000 residents of West Prince without a family doctor.
This is due mainly to the recent retirements of Dickieson and Dr. Charles Dewar.
But only 567 patients in this area are on the patient registry.
Health officials have been encouraging patients not to place themselves on the registry as they are trying to recruit physicians to take over these two practices. If that happens, patients once followed by Dickieson or Dewar will once again have a family doctor. Meanwhile, people like Deagle, who place themselves on the patient registry, may end up waiting longer.
“The moment that they leave the cohort of patients belonging to Dr. Dickieson, they lose that connection to the (O’Leary) health centre and that’s why we want to keep them in one area, so that the moment we are lucky enough to recruit someone to O’Leary, those patients can be taken on as a group,” said Dr. André Celliers, chief of family and community medicine.
“If you go back on the list, that means it’s first come, first served, so you might fall behind everyone else that had been waiting for a while, which is an unfortunate reality of the patient registry that we have to deal with.”
Celliers says he understands there is uncertainty and concern in the community about the current shortage of physicians in West Prince.
He admits it has been difficult to recruit doctors to remote, rural areas like western and eastern P.E.I. But health officials have been encouraged by two physicians who have recently made site visits in West Prince and two more that are also scheduled to visit in the coming months.
“There are plans to carry out some follow up interviews with them to see if we can entice them to come on.”
Additional recruitment activities include: recruiters attended a physician job fair in Montreal earlier this week, meetings with medical students at Dalhousie and Memorial universities in February and March and a nation-wide social media campaign aimed at finding family doctors, with a focus on recent grads.
Celliers says West Prince patients without a doctor can see nurse practitioners at the O’Leary Health Centre or can go to outpatients at Western Hospital in Alberton or Prince County Hospital in Summerside. But he advises they should see the nurse practitioners if possible, as their health charts are located and accessible to NPs and locums in O’Leary.
“We certainly appreciate the concerns that people have in West Prince and we know that it has been hard to find doctors to go to work there,” Celliers said.
“Our focus, however, remains on ensuring Islanders have access to dedicated primary care… be that a dedicated family physician or nurse practitioner.”
But Deagle and others in West Prince say they are left with no one dedicated to overseeing their health care needs, which is stressful for people with health conditions that require follow-up care and physician expertise.
“The system is broken and I don’t even know if there’s an answer for it. That’s how I feel. Is there another family doctor who will come in and be willing to take on all these people? I don’t know.”