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Physician recruitment in full gear as northern Ontario faces shortage of 300 doctors

Communities across the province’s northeast have continued recruitment efforts amid Ontario Medical Association reports that northern Ontario is short more than 300 doctors.

In Greater Sudbury, Health Sciences North has recruited 36 specialty physicians so far this year. The hospital said it is looking to fill 14 vacancies for roles in a variety of fields, including pathology, surgery and geriatric medicine.

The Sudbury hospital has pending offers for five of those positions.

The City of Greater Sudbury has been recruiting family physicians to the area since 2007, when 30,000 residents did not have a family doctor. The city has said it is currently short seven family physicians.

In Greater Sudbury, Health Sciences North has recruited 36 specialty physicians so far this year. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Ryan Humeniuk, the city’s physician recruitment co-ordinator, said the pandemic has moved most of Greater Sudbury’s recruitment efforts online.

“I know we are working with a candidate that we interacted with recently on a virtual job fair and we’re hopeful we’re able to retain that person for Greater Sudbury,” he said.

The North Bay Regional Health Centre has said it has 22 physician positions to fill, while the chair of Sault Ste. Marie’s physician recruitment committee said the city is short about 20 doctors.

Ward 3 Coun. Donna Hilsinger, who chairs Sault Ste. Marie’s physician recruitment committee, said their recruitment efforts have gone well, even though they haven’t quite reached their goals for family physician recruitment..

“So yes, we don’t have as many family doctors as we’d like to have,” she said. “Am I concerned? I’m not concerned. We just have to continue working.”

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), which trains physicians who practise across northern Ontario, said Timmins is short eight family doctors and 20 specialists.

Many without family doctors

Mike Baker, president and CEO of the Temiskaming Hospital, said it is short one doctor.

Baker said Temiskaming Shores has 20 family doctors. On paper, that should be enough for every resident to have a doctor, but he said that hasn’t worked out in practice.

“I think it’s a function of maybe the formula for determining how many physicians you have in a community needs to be upgraded,” Baker said. “We probably could use 22 or 23 in order to reach all of the people in our communities that do not yet have a family doctor.”

Many communities in northeastern Ontario have offered incentives to help attract new physicians. Those have included investments to help them move and settle into a new community.

Timmins Mayor George Pirie suggested that northeastern Ontario municipalities should cast a wider net when recruiting new doctors.

“Surprisingly, Greece is one country that has way above the average of physicians per capita,” he said. 

“So you could probably look at locations like that and say, ‘Geez, is there any opportunity to recruit physicians [from other countries] that might have a surplus of physicians?'”

Dr. Sarita Verma, dean and CEO of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), says it would take five graduating classes of students to address the current physician shortage. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Marketing northern Ontario

Dr. Sarita Verma, NOSM’s dean and chief executive officer, said it would take five graduating classes of students to address the current physician shortage in northern Ontario.

The school, which was affiliated with Laurentian University in Sudbury and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, is in the process of becoming a standalone institution.

Verma said there are plans to expand the school once it is fully independent. She added many communities across northern Ontario need to ramp up their marketing efforts to attract physicians and their families.

“There are people we can recruit from other parts of Canada,” Verma said.

“But they have spouses who need jobs. They have kids who need to go to school. They have the need for great housing. The lifestyle up here in northern Ontario, as I’ve discovered as a displaced, replaced southerner, wow — what a great experience. But you need to market it better, you know?”

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