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Health Minister Madeleine Dubé says two new physicians have already signed up for the shared workload initiative. (CBC)

New Brunswick's health minister is hoping a new program will help ease physicians into retirement and ensure patients aren’t left without a family doctor.

But some doctors say it won’t help much in the short-term.

Under the shared workload initiative, announced Thursday by Health Minister Madeleine Dubé, new physicians will work in collaboration with an experienced physician with the aim of taking over the practice when the physician retires.

"This initiative will benefit experienced physicians who want to lighten their workload, new physicians who want to establish themselves in a practice, as well as patients," Dubé said in a statement.

The program is open to existing family doctors who are at least 55 years old, have seen at least 2,400 patients in each of the last three fiscal years, and are paid on a fee-for-service basis, she said.

Five positions for new doctors will be created under the program this year, said Dubé. Two of them have already been filled by doctors from Oromocto and Moncton, she said.

Too late for some

Dr. Christine Davies, who is set to retire from her Saint John practice at the end of November, likes the idea.

"This model is good for the future of primary care," she said.

But it comes too late to help her patients.

"It's obviously not going to be implemented in time to help my 2,500 patients who will be without a family doctor at the end of the year," Davies said.

Still, Dr. Robert Rae, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says the program is a step in the right direction.

And he believes it’s just the beginning.

"It would be nice if there were more (positions)," Rae said. "But what happens is that if this proves to be successful, then lobbying can be done to ensure that there are more."

Rae says the plan signals a change in philosophy by the New Brunswick government as it tries to deal with the 50,000 patients across the province without a family doctor.