Northeast Chief Operating Officer Betty Morris says while the situation isn’t critical yet, the city is facing the realities of a physician shortage.
“I think we’re heading into a difficult situation in that it is more difficult to get a family practice physician if you don’t have one,” she says. “It’s not dire at this point, because there’s still access to care, but if you’re new to this community and you want a GP, then it is more difficult, absolutely.”
Morris says the greatest concern right now is the burden of the number of patients on the physicians the city does have. Residents without a family doctor can still access health care through walk-in clinics, but the worry is that the emergency room will fill up with non-emergency patients.
“One of the things we don’t want to happen is that it drives up the emergency room visits, because then what that means in the sick people are waiting longer. They’re going to wait longer because we have a line of people who aren’t sick.”
Northern Health is currently recruiting four General Practitioners for Fort St. John, along with a number of specialists. The process is a lengthy one, which can be helped by incentives from the provincial government and B.C. Medical Association. It often involves bringing prospects up for a visit, with the help from many different members of the community.
“[Mayor Lori Ackerman] has said herself, ‘any time, any day, if I’m here and you want me to meet the physician, I’ll do that,’” says Morris. “It takes a coordinated effort, and I think our community is motivated to provide that. Our physicians themselves, if there’s someone coming up they will organize getting together for a dinner to welcome somebody.”
While efforts like the Northern Medical Program at UNBC and other incentives to bring up doctors have been successful, Northern Health maintains finding employers that will stay long-term and become part of the community is more important.