‘Sad, I had to leave Newfoundland for it to happen’

Resident moves to find treatment; but province says record number of doctors practising here.

Arthur C. Green

The medical school class size has increased from 60 to 80 students. Newfoundlander’s are still finding it difficult to obtain family doctors. Arthur C Green/Kicker


Joe Kelly from Placentia says he recently moved to Edmonton for better health care. The fight to find a family doctor within the province was just too much of a struggle.

“Overall, it was a nightmare,” said Kelly. “The amount of school I had to miss to drive to appointments was quite significant.”

In 2013, Kelly started having nerve and muscle issues. At the time, he lived in Corner Brook while attending Memorial University and made several trips to the emergency room during his studies. Kelly said hospital physicians instructed him to search for a family doctor.

It was an exhaustive search that took several months. The only doctor Kelly was able to obtain involved a two hour drive to Norris Point.

Kelly says on nice, sunny days it was merely an inconvenience, but in the winter it was often hazardous.

Kelly is not alone in the search for a family physician. Full time Memorial University of Newfoundland student Joelle Macpherson found herself needing a new family doctor in the fall of 2016. After months of searching, she decided to try the university clinic, only to be turned away.

“I couldn’t find one in St. John’s that would see me,” said Macpherson. “Even the doctor at university turned me away and I am a student attending memorial.”

Macpherson would eventually find a physician in Bay Bulls, which is about a 30-minute drive from her home in Kilbride.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Health and Community Services oversees wait times.  Emily Timmins is the media relations manager.

“There are approximately 1,200 practicing physicians in the province – the highest number ever,” Timmins said.

Timmins says that in 2016, the Canadian Institute of Health Information reported that the province had 243 physicians per 100,000 population.

However, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, there is only one doctor in the St. John’s area accepting new patients and two doctors in the Conception Bay South area accepting new patients.

Timmins says the department works with the four regional health authorities to meet their physician recruitment targets. The department is not aware of a statistic which indicates how many people in the province would like to see a doctor. According to them, no one reports it.

Timmins says there hasn’t been a problem recruiting doctors to the St. John’s area. However, she says, rural areas will naturally have more difficulty recruiting and retaining physicians, which is a national and international trend.

In recent years, there have been incentive payments put in place by the province to encourage doctors to practice in rural areas.

“There is currently no levy on doctors,” Timmins said. “The government is committed to improving strategies to bring in more doctors to the province.”

Although, the recruitment and retention of physicians is complex.

Timmins says multiple factors are involved, including things such as compensation, number of colleagues in the community, spousal employment and the local education system for children. However, she also says the government is committed to improving its physician recruitment strategy.

“Expansion of the (Memorial) medical school class size from 60 to 80 students, provision of bursaries, signing bonuses for difficult to fill positions and (putting in place) dedicated physician recruiter positions,” Timmins said.

While the government is working to entice doctors to remain in the province, Joe Kelly now lives 6,888 kilometres away in Edmonton where he says he’s found the specialist he needs.

“Sad I had to leave Newfoundland for it to happen,” Kelly said.




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