Many residents are looking for a family doctor, but a recruitment task force has had some recent luck in attracting more physicians.
Dr. Jonathan Kerr sits on an advisory committee for Comox Valley Division of Family Practice and also chairs a committee charged with recruiting and retaining family physicians for the Comox Valley.
“We’re just trying to keep up with population growth,” he told the Record.
The bad news is the latest numbers show 10,366 people in the region still need a family doctor. However, the group has had success. Since last July, they have been able to match up 4,138 residents with a physician, and they have also recruited four family physicians to the Comox Valley. There are another dozen doctors seriously looking into the area.
“We hope to recruit at least half of them,” he said.
Kerr also points to several challenges such as population growth, retirements or even something unexpected like the recent tragic death of Dr. Brad Harris as factors that affect the availability of family physicians in the community.
“It’s heartbreaking … totally out of the blue,” he said. “That’s put a strain on this issue as well.”
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The need for family doctors came up during the most recent board meeting of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District. As well, at a recent Comox council meeting, Dr. Jonathan Reggler questioned a presentation for adding residential units in the community while there is a need for more doctors to meet patient demand.
Kerr, as a new member of Comox’s council, said the need for a family doctor was one of the most important issues, along with climate change and affordable housing, he heard from people while campaigning during the town’s byelection last fall.
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The issue is complicated as most communities across the country are facing the same situation. Kerr says the decision by provinces years ago to cut medical school enrolment has lessened the number of doctors for a growing population in the long run.
COVID-19 has also presented more challenges and caused burnout for doctors and others in health professions. This has led to some doctors changing their practice, which left many patients without a family doctor.
Province-wide, Kerr says the estimate is about 900,000 people do not have their own doctor, and the situation is repeated across the country.
In a Canadian Institute for Health Information podcast, Dr. Katherine Smart, the head of the Canadian Medical Association, talked about the need to re-imagine a health system designed in the 1950s. She said almost five million people do not have access to primary care, and the situation is more complicated for smaller communities.
“It’s much worse in rural areas because it’s harder to recruit and retain physicians, partly because the burden of work in these settings is huge,” Smart said.
Kerr’s own clinic has added new doctors, and he adds it is important to figure out how to encourage these professionals to settle in the Comox Valley. This could included appealing to lifestyle choices, or considering work options for doctors’ spouses or any number of factors.
Key to all of this, he says, will be the co-operation of all local governments, the regional district, Island Health and other community groups to make sure the area can recruit enough doctors to enable every resident to get the personal care they need — rather than have the communities compete with each other.
“Any doctor that comes to the Valley is a benefit for all,” he said. “What we’re trying to create is a co-ordinated approach.”
For anyone local for a family doctor, there is a quick online sign-up via the Comox Valley Health Connect Registry at https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-connect-registry/comox-valley