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

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

The purchase of 27 acres in the Millstream Creek watershed by The Land Conservancy and other partners will protect a sensitive ecosystem in the Highlands. (Photo contributed by The Land Conservancy)
Provincial land conservancy lays out $600,000 for Highlands property

Anonymous donor helps buy purchased 11.1 hectares of Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem

Colin Springford doing what he loved best, tending to his garden. (Linda Matteson photo)
Longtime farmer Colin Springford dies at age 75

‘He will be deeply missed, always loved and never forgotten’

An architectural rendering provides a look at PC Urban’s proposal for three buildings on the former Galaxy Motors property at 1764 Island Hwy. in Colwood. (Rendering courtesy of PC Urban)
Commercial/industrial development planned for former Galaxy Motors site

Colwood proposal goes to public hearing Jan. 25

Members of the Victoria Police Department, some of whom are shown here observing a moment of silence for victims of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, experience stress and potential trauma more than most other workers, says Chief Const. Del Manak. While the number of shifts lost at VicPD are soaring, he sees it as a sign people are taking their own health and wellness seriously. (Black Press Media file photo)
Skyrocketing number of lost shifts at Victoria police has a positive side, chief says

Chief Const. Del Manak says officers, staff being more proactive looking after their mental health

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

The RCMP are reminding drivers to find alternative ways home if they have consumed anything that impairs their ability to drive. (Black Press file photo)
Impaired Island driver flees road check twice on the same night

The officer issued the driver numerous violation tickets, and a four-month driving suspension

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. Mowi Canada has applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by June, 2022. (Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward photo)
Major B.C. salmon farms seek court intervention in Discovery Islands ban

Fisheries minister is phasing out operations in the area by June 2022

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Most Read