Health Minister Ted Flemming insists there are jobs for family doctors in New Brunswick, despite a letter he received from medical residents saying a provincial cap on full-time positions is forcing them to leave when they finish their training.
The 12 chief residents from across the Maritimes, who represent 141 family medicine residents in post-graduate programs, contend the province needs more billing numbers.
"The fear of not being able to stay to work in New Brunswick is growing," said Dr. Isabelle Ann Girouard, a second-year family medicine resident at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital in Moncton.
"At one point we'll have no choice, but to go outside of the province to find jobs, either in Nova Scotia or Quebec."
Girouard says it doesn't make sense. The government encourages New Brunswickers like her to go to medical school at home, but only opens up a handful of full-time positions each year. Now that she's looking for a job, she can't find one.
Excerpt of letter to Health Minister Ted Flemming from medical residents:
"Minister, we have young and eager family physicians in this province who want to start practice and serve New Brunswickers but we are being discouraged by our government to do so. We believe that the thousands of New Brunswickers on waiting lists for family physicians deserve better. We as a group would like to see more opportunities to practise in New Brunswick, without limitations, such as being delegated to take over existing practices, or forced to practise in communities to which we have no ties. We consider these restrictions a disservice to our medical school, our medical training programs, and most importantly the residents and taxpayers of New Brunswick who stand to benefit from our taxpayer-subsidized education."
"The government put a lot of money in creating this med school in Moncton and in Saint John with Dalhousie University. [It] was to promote and to encourage the physicians so they have more tendency of staying here in New Brunswick to work afterwards."
Flemming contends the students are mistaken and there are jobs available.
"I found when I met with the medical students there was a fair bit of misinformation. They were of the view that there were no available medicare numbers," he said.
"Well I know for a fact that there are 15 available numbers right now. I know for a fact that there are family physicians who are in the process of retiring and winding down their practice. There is some misinformation," said Flemming.
He has no plans to increase the number of billing numbers, he said.
"Providing medical service for New Brunswick is not just a question at this stage, of throwing out billing numbers."
But with about 40 family medicine residents in New Brunswick looking for work in the next two months, 15 positions aren't enough, said Girouard.
Dr. Darren Martin, a chief resident at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital, agrees.
He argues there's a desperate need for more family doctors.
"Patients that are telling me, that they've been nine years on a waiting list here in Moncton to have a family doctor," he said. "But if we're taking places of doctors that are retiring, we're not helping to decrease that waiting list."