The B.C. government is offering a $100,000 incentive to draw another anesthesiologist to Cranbrook in a program announced Wednesday, March 13.
In order to receive the bonus, the specialist would commit to a three-year stint at East Kootenay Regional Hospital. They would receive $50,000 upon arrival, and $50,000 after a year. The full amount would need to be returned if the anesthesiologist left before the three years was up.
But that’s not likely to be a problem, said John Kettle, chair of the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board, who was pleased by the government announcement.
“We all know this is the best kept secret in North America. If people come here and see how we live, they don’t want to leave either. So if we can get them here, normally they want to stay,” said Kettle.
Kettle said he has first-hand experience of the need for extra physicians at Cranbrook’s hospital.
“Having just used the facility and gone through an operation at the hospital, I can tell you that any new addition to our area and the hospital is great news for the people of the East Kootenay,” he said.
“Having a new anaesthesiologist added to the staff at the hospital is a win-win for everyone.”
The Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive is a partnership between the Ministry of Health and the B.C. Medical Association (BCMA), developed by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues.
“This initiative will be a boost to many patients living in areas of the province that just don’t have enough physicians to take care of them,” said Dr. Shelley Ross, president of the BCMA. “The BCMA is committed to providing British Columbians with the highest standard of health care, so if we can make it more attractive for physicians to set up practice in rural areas, we should.”
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, who was a physician in Rossland before entering politics, said there are many reasons for doctors to consider a career in a rural community.
“Helping to fill much-needed rural family physician and specialist positions not only benefits local families, but also provides additional support for physicians and other health-care professionals in the community,” MacDiarmid said. “We often hear about the challenges rural doctors face, but having worked as a family physician in rural B.C., I can tell you that there are many rewards to rural practice from a diverse practice to a unique connection with patients and families.”
This $100,000 incentive is in addition to others announced over the past six months to entice physicians to rural areas. In October, the BCMA launched a program that would give family doctors in Cranbrook funds to hire a locum general practitioner with anesthesia training for up to 10 days a year to cover them on vacation or training breaks.
Last month, the government and BCMA began a program to forgive student debt for doctors who practice outside urban areas, and other inducements to encourage graduating and foreign doctors to choose a rural community to live and work.
Cranbrook is one of 17 communities across B.C. to benefit from the $100,000 incentive. In Interior Health, there is incentives for two family doctors in Clearwater, one in Nakusp and one in Princeton. Northern Health is funded for five family doctors, an internist and an anesthesiologist. Vancouver Coastal is funded for two family doctors. Vancouver Island has five incentive placements: four family doctors and one emergency physician.
While Cranbrook is the only community in the East Kootenay to benefit from the incentive, John Kettle said he knows the need for rural doctors affects the whole province – even all of Canada.
“There is probably no rural area in this country that is overstaffed with general practitioners. It’s probably not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. So we need to be more effective with the people we have and more diligent in making sure that when we get a family doctor in a rural area that we keep them there and keep them happy,” said Kettle.