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The P.E.I. government has inked a deal with the Medical Society of P.E.I. aimed at co-ordinating doctors to attract other doctors to practise on the Island.
The agreement comes after an election pledge by the Progressive Conservatives to “include doctors recruiting doctors” and to focus recruiting on rural areas.
The agreement will see MSPEI study best practices for recruitment in other regions and present a recruitment model to government by March 31.
"Who better to recruit doctors than doctors,” said Health Minister James Aylward in an interview.
“They have a network. They've gone to medical school and quite often they will keep in contact with their fellow classmates. They know who's where and maybe who might not be happy where they're currently at."
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The Department of Health and Wellness currently has a recruitment and retention secretariat office, with a staff of six. Aylward said he believes the recruitment and retention secretariat would work closely with MSPEI.
He did not rule out the possibility of the new plan including a remunerative bonus for doctors who successfully recruit others.
Dr. David Bannon, president of MSPEI, said the organization plans to contract a physician to co-manage the study, and will hire a “well-known consultant” as part of it.
When asked what would be different from current recruitment efforts, Bannon said results would improve with more input from physicians.
“Much of the process that's currently been in place has become fragmented over time. It's hard to identify need, it's hard to identify who's going to take responsibility for what part of the process," Bannon said.
Bannon added that recruiting staff with the province deserve ample credit for their work.
"But, of course, we're still struggling. So, we have to figure out a way collectively to build on what's already being done and improve it," he said.
A survey conducted by MSPEI in February 2019 found that 56 per cent of Island physicians plan to either retire, leave the Island or reduce their workload within five years. There are currently 16,193 people without a family doctor on P.E.I.
Robert Henderson, health critic for the Liberal Third Party, suggested the March 31 timeline for the completion of the study suggested a lack of urgency from the current government.
"By that time, they will be about a year into their mandate and they still have no direction or recommendation to go forward on recruiting," Henderson.
"What is impeding physicians from recruiting physicians today?"
Henderson, a former health minister under the previous government, said recruiting physicians is a complicated task. Some prospective physicians may only want to work in Charlottetown while the likelihood of others practising in other towns may depend upon their spouse finding a job in their profession locally.
He said the main factors involved in recruiting often come down to competitive pay for doctors, as well as aggressive outreach in Canada and internationally by recruiting staff.
In a press release on Jan. 9, Green Opposition health critic Trish Altass suggested the province should focus more on retaining existing physicians.
“It is one thing to recruit a doctor, but that is simply not enough. We need to support our healthcare professionals, give them opportunities to grow and expand in their careers, and to be fully involved in decision making processes,” Altass said in the statement.