A local group is looking to increase recruitment of more family physicians to Cranbrook and the surrounding regional communities, and has gotten some help from the Regional District of East Kootenay.
The RDEK recently approved a funding request from the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice, which asked for $10,000 this year and $15,000 next year to support ongoing recruitment and retention efforts of family physicians to the area.
According to a letter from the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice provided to the RDEK, the organization has recruited six family physicians to Cranbrook since 2016, while also noting that five more are currently needed. Recruitment efforts have also been successful in Invermere, while the organization has also lent some support to Elk Valley communities.
Rob Gay, the RDEK board chair, said anyone who doesn’t have access to a family doctor ends up going to the hospital emergency department, which puts additional stress on the local health care system.
“To not have a family doctor they can go to is problematic, for the people as well as for the system,” he said.
From a policy standpoint, Gay noted the ability to access a family doctor carries potential economic impacts, and can be considered a factor if businesses or prospective residents are looking to move into the area.
The East Kootenay Division of Family Practice is the regional chapter of a provincial organization with a membership made up of family physicians. It runs programs supporting recruitment and retention of doctors to the region, while also advocating for primary care.
Dr. Michael Walsh chairs the EK Division of Family Practice board and is a family physician based out of Invermere.
Recruitment and retention of family physicians can be a complex issue, but finding individual fits within communities is an important priority. Lifestyle, educational opportunities, jobs for spouses and housing, are just a few of the considerations that prospective family physicians are looking at when eyeing a move to the region, he said.
“Trying to recruit doesn’t always get you [a family physician],” said Dr. Walsh. “What are the important pieces that make it successful — that’s the complexity that we speak about as far as lifestyle.”
The other consideration when family doctors move to a rural area is the scope of practice, meaning a physician at any given time may be delivering a wide range of health care services, rather than practicing with a narrower, specialized focus.
Dr. Ken Brown, who practices out of Cranbrook, said the outdoor recreational lifestyle is a huge lure for prospective family physicians, as well as the opportunity in rural areas to dabble in a wide scope of medical practice.
“Places like Invermere, Creston, Golden … if you’re a GP [General Practitioner] in one of those communities, you have to do emergency, so it’s going to attract them more,” said Dr. Brown. “We’re also getting people who don’t want to do emergency — it’s too much adrenaline for them — and so Cranbrook ends up being a good fit for that, where they can can do some family medicine, some hospital medicine, but they don’t have to do emerg [sic].”
In the past, Cranbrook has attracted medical specialists with the ‘Red Carpet Committee’ — a partnership of organizations that would figuratively roll out the red carpet as part of a recruiting process for family physicians and medical specialists.
The East Kootenay Division of Family Practice also has a recruitment coordinator role that sits on the Interior Health Recruitment and Retention Steering Committee, which focuses on enhancing locum (temporary) support, licensing and placement of international medical graduates across the region.
The EKDFP will also be contracting a marketing lead to develop additional recruitment and retention strategies, seek out additional grant funding, and work with the East Kootenay Foundation for Health.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.