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Although not elected to the Legislature myself, I congratulate those who are now in the position to facilitate a robust recruitment and retention action plan such as has been promoted during the campaign. It is required to address our immediate, mid- and long-term physician requirements for the province, particularly in rural areas where the shortage is most acute.
Here’s what we can do to address the family physician shortage:
A facilitated recruitment program to extend the physician search beyond traditional sources reaching to places on the European continent such as Germany would help. The rural and small town environment could have appeal to many qualified professionals seeking a more pastoral land and seascape venue. Island physicians must be involve to insure success.
Direct local participation on the recruitment team is essential to success of any physician enrollment effort. Assignment of billing numbers by Island region would be an important step to insure adequate disbursement of physician placement to areas of highest need.
Addressing present service lapses such as high-speed internet must be part of the overall requirement to attract skilled professionals to rural P.E.I. Provision of incentives, both in recruitment and retention, must also be part of the package.
Immediate doubling, and later tripling of family physician residency positions, now only at five on the Island, would allow more medical school graduates to complete their education in Island hospitals and clinics is a cost-effective way to attract and retain physicians in our province. Results would be apparent in the short and intermediate term.
A medical faculty at the University of Prince Edward Island is the brass ring to solve the longer term issue of physician supply for our province. No need to re-invent the wheel with this strategy. The University of New Brunswick, Saint John campus graduates 30 doctors per year, and is affiliated with Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax. Moncton University also has a medical faculty educating French speaking medical students, this in conjunction with the University of Sherebrooke in Quebec. The University of Cape Breton is planning to set up a medical faculty to address their regional physician requirements.
The establishment of a medical faculty at UPEI must begin immediately with little expense at the planning and negotiating stage. The amortized cost of such a facility would be defrayed by attracting some foreign medical students to join Islanders earning their medical degree on Prince Edward Island. This would be a welcome change from some of our Island physicians having to obtain a medical education in the Caribbean or other places with no guarantee of a placement on return to the Island.
The Atlantic Veterinary School and the Nursing Program at UPEI have proven that we are more than capable in this province of operating first class educational facilities to serve our local needs and beyond. We must do the same to address the growing need for Island physicians, particularly for rural Islanders.
Dr. Herb Dickieson is a former MLA and physician in western P.E.I.