Members with the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice delivered a presentation to the Rotary Club of Cranbrook on the need for family doctors in the region. Trevor Crawley photo.

More family doctors needed in the East Kootenay region

East Kootenay Division of Family Practice delivers presentation to Rotary Club on need for more doctors

The East Kootenay needs family doctors.

That was the message from the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice during a presentation to the Rotary Club last week at the Heritage Inn.

Representatives with the Division, along with Dr. Ross Dawson, delivered the presentation, outlining the issues and challenges with recruiting family doctors to Cranbrook and the surrounding rural areas.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, there are roughly 6,000 people in Cranbrook without a family doctor. Additionally, based on feedback from the medical community, Cranbrook is short approximately six to eight family physicians.

He adds that one family doctor typically has roughly 1,000 patients, but touts the importance and benefits of a personal relationship with primary care provider who can be an advocate for their patient within the health care system.

Those without a family doctor tend to use the emergency department, which can put additional stress on the hospital system, Dr. Dawson added.

“The emergency department is for emergency care or urgent care and can become overwhelmed by more minor problems or ambulatory problems which could be easily dealt with at a family physician office,” he said.

While many rural communities are facing shortages, there is also currently a lack of family doctors across the world. While Cranbrook had an influx of international medical professionals move to the area a few years ago, immigration regulations have tightened up, according to Jacqui van Zyl, who leads the recruitment and retention efforts for the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice.

That means there’s a lot more competition between rural areas for a smaller pool of family physicians trained in Canada or the United States.

“One of the most important things we’ve found is finding a good fit, because we know we we need physicians, but we want to find physicians that work well in our community who are happy to live in this area and want to appreciate what Cranbrook has to offer,” van Zyl said.

“So when we find these physicians who come here, we try to figure out what are they interested in, what do they like to do, which community and which clinic within the community are good for them?”

A ‘Red Carpet Committee’ — which was used successfully to recruit medical professionals to the area in the past — has been struck, as the group, which consists of community ambassadors, seeks to connect with potential new doctors interested in coming to the area.

But there’s also other considerations that go into the process.

“When we’re recruiting physicians, we’re also recruiting family and spouse,” said Dr. Dawson.

A targeted recruitment can take up to two years, as some barriers can include wrapping up an existing practice before moving to a new region, navigating requirements with provincial regulatory organizations and finding an appropriate fit within a community.

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