Calling all doctors: Victoria physicians on board with recruitment train

Solutions to family physician shortage begin with collaboration: stakeholders

Kathy Dabrus

Kathy Dabrus

A shortage of family doctors in the Capital Region has left thousands of people without consistent medical care and doctors struggling to meet demand – a problem that will soon worsen as many physicians approach retirement age.

“It’s absolutely a crisis,” said Dr. Mark Sherman, one of five family doctors at the Victoria Community Health Co-operative, where physician recruitment efforts are ongoing.

Fewer doctors are left to shoulder the burden of more complex health issues that come with Greater Victoria’s aging population.

“Patient care is appalling,” said Dr. Cara Ewert with Herald Street Health. “It’s all just a little bit overwhelming.”

There are 13 available positions for permanent, part-time and substitute, or locum, family physicians in the Capital Region listed on the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s website.

But the vacancy rate from Sooke to Sidney is likely higher, doctors say, and those numbers are expected to climb in the next five to 10 years, as many physicians look to retire. On average, family physicians in the Capital Region are in their late 50s.

“Doctors here are older than just about anywhere in B.C. It’s just reflective of the general demographics here,” said Andrew Hume, the executive director for the South Island Division of Family Practice, one of 31 community based and provincially funded groups of family physicians in the province.

And with few replacement physicians on the horizon – the reasons range from lower remuneration to new doctors preferring to specialize – many family physicians in the region are postponing retirement, some for as long as five years.

“We generally say that physicians should plan one year to recruit,” said Brenda Warren, VIHA manager of physician recruitment.

“Some of them, it takes a couple of years to fill (a position).”

But solutions may be on the horizon. Hundreds of doctors in the region are finding their collective voice through the Divisions of Family Practice, which works in co-operation with health authorities, a joint provincial physician/Ministry of Health service committee and the ministry itself. Together, physicians at the community level are taking steps to map out strategies to address issues such as recruitment and retention.

“As family doctors dealing one-on-one with individual patients, we really felt we were in a unique role to advocate on the ground, right at the grassroots level,” said Dr. Kathy Dabrus, who sits on the Victoria Division of Family Practice’s board of directors. “There hasn’t been a voice previously.”

The Victoria division, which started last November, now has 187 members.

To better understand physician demographics, divisions will survey members this summer. South Island members plan to come together in September to develop strategies, based on survey results. A recruitment working group will likely emerge from that process, Hume said.

The South Island division began in October 2010, and has 150 family physician members on the West Shore and the Saanich Peninsula.

Collaboration among physicians, the divisions, B.C.’s Ministry of Health and the health authority, among other stakeholders, is imperative to address the shortage, Hume said.

“It’s a whole community approach, so part of our strategy has to be, ‘how are we going to work with municipal governments and community based agencies, and other health providers, health authorities, the ministry, to identify resources?’”

Such municipalities as Esquimalt, which has one family practice but enough work for two or three, are looking to be part of the solution.

The township is taking steps this fall to develop a physician recruitment strategy, in co-operation with VIHA and through consulting Esquimalt-based family doctors.

“Esquimalt is an expensive place to move into (and buy a house), and also business and commercial taxes are higher,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Zoning or tax policy changes, advertising and the development of an information package to introduce doctors to Esquimalt could be part of the township’s recruitment strategy, said Bill Brown, director of development services.

“Hopefully our municipality will be a leader in developing protocols in policies for physician recruitment,” he said.

In an example of teamwork, the South Island division is spearheading a working group of stakeholders on the Peninsula to develop a comprehensive multi-practice primary health-care centre.

“A municipal government can play a very active role in terms of assisting with the provision of facilities or possibly land, zoning, bylaws, to make it more attractive (for doctors) and support that kind of development in their community,” Hume said.

Collaborative, long-term solutions can’t happen soon enough for doctors facing an imminent tidal wave of patients orphaned by retiring physicians.

“We need new or practising doctors to move to Victoria to set up or join a practice,” Sherman said.

emccracken@vicnews.com

Did you know?

• An estimated 400,000 people in B.C. don’t have a family doctor or a strong attachment to one.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)
Colwood stargazing dome makes a move to Saanich

The backyard structure finds a new home after 30 years

Chris Grzywacz, Seed and Stone’s development agent, holds products from the Songhees Cannabis S + S store on April 20. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)
First cannabis store opens on Songhees Nation, creates economic opportunity says chief

The Songhees Cannabis S + S had a soft launch at its 1502 Admirals Road location on April 20

A convicted sex offender, whose crimes included offences against children, was arrested at Gonzales Beach after the man was spotted by an off-duty officer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Convicted sex offender arrested at Gonzales Beach

After committing crimes involving children, offender barred from public beaches, being in proximity to kids

VicPD asks anyone who sees Daniel Shumka, or with information on his whereabouts to call 250-995-7654 or report anonymously through Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man wanted on drug trafficking charges

Daniel Shumka, 50, is 6’1” and about 195 pounds with short brown hair and brown eyes

Victoria police arrested three men following a double stabbing April 19. The two victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Three arrested after double stabbing in Victoria

Two people sent to hospital after being stabbed, hit with bear spray

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton ready to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to authorize legal action

Most Read