The University of Manitoba's largest-ever class of doctors graduated Thursday morning, but only 12 of the 113 plan to do their residencies in rural Manitoba. 

Rural Manitoba is short dozens of family doctors and the shortages are fuelling calls for changes to the way doctors are recruited. 

One of the new doctors, Danielle Paradis, has plenty of experience with physician shortages in small communities. 

She grew up in Dunrea, Man., a village of about 50 people just over 50 kilometres southeast of Brandon.

"I grew up seeing people putting off illnesses and putting off getting treatment ... simply because they don't have access to a physician in a timely manner," said Paradis.

She said people would often have to drive at least 20 minutes to get to the nearest ER and that rural people have to be adaptable and resilient when it comes to their health-care needs.

"They live with what they know, and since they're used to it they've become highly adaptable and have become very good at learning where the [closest] ER — where it will be open on that day," said Paradis.

In the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority, there are currently 31 vacant family physician positions. With 84 positions in the region, that represents a vacancy rate of about 37 per cent, according to figures provided by the health region.

The Prairie Mountain Health region in western Manitoba, meanwhile, needs 25 more doctors to meet a full complement of approximately 180.

Paradis and Dean

Danielle Paradis with Brian Postl, the dean of the College of Medicine. (CBC)

Elsewhere in Manitoba, the situation isn't as dire. In the Southern Regional Health Authority, where a full complement of family physicians is considered to be 140, only 2.5 positions are vacant.

In the Northern health region, 6.25 positions are vacant.

Marina Rountree-James grew up in Thompson, Man. She did some of her electives in northern communities and while she is doing her residency in Winnipeg close to her family she hopes she will be able to find employment that would allow her to split her time working in Winnipeg and northern communities.

"Growing up, up north, you realize quickly how much is offered within the perimeter and as soon as you're outside — just the change. There is some amazing people who work [in rural communities] but there is such a need," she said. 

51% of rural residency doctors stay

According to a study of doctors who finished Manitoba's rural residency program in the past 10 years, 51 per cent are still practicing in rural Manitoba. The study concludes that if the ideal is to have 100 per cent of residents remain in rural, northern or remote areas, there needs to be a greater incentive to practice in those locations.

Graph

A study of doctors who finished Manitoba's rural residency program in the past 10 years shows that 51 per cent of those doctors are still practising in rural Manitoba. (CBC)

Max Rady College of Medicine dean Brian Postl said two-thirds of this year's grads are staying in the province and that there is a growing interest in family medicine in rural areas. But he acknowledges the challenges communities face in keeping doctors: they want to have colleague support and manageable call schedules, plus challenging work to keep their skills sharp. 

"It's really trying to find a balance between the size of a community, its capacity to serve as a hub for other communities and trying to recruit physicians into a place where they can feel comfortable for a career," said Postl. 

Paradis, who is doing her residency in Dauphin, Man., said communities can get more involved to help doctors want to stay.

"You don't just recruit the individual physician, you recruit the entire family and so if you can find a way to get the physician and their family incorporated into the community, that's going to give you your best opportunity for them to want to stay in that community," said Paradis.

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