The Horizon Health Network has successfully recruited two new thoracic surgeons about six months after being faced with a critical shortage when two surgeons went on unexpected leave.

"We're now up to a full complement" of four, with the two new hires and the return of the two surgeons previously on leave, said Dr. David Marr, medical director for the Saint John region.

Dr. David Marr, cardiologist, medical director, Horizon, Saint John area

Dr. David Marr, Horizon's medical director for the Saint John area, said he's 'delighted' to have a full complement of thoracic surgeons. (Horizon Health Network)

"We're delighted," he said.

Thoracic surgeons are specialists who deal with structures of the chest, such as the esophagus, lungs, and diaphragm muscle, but not the heart.

They treat diseases ranging from gastroesophageal reflux to lung and esophageal cancers, remove benign tumours, perform chest reconstruction after major traumas and handle lung transplants.

Dr. Julius Poon, 34, of Calgary, started working at the Saint John Regional Hospital last week and Dr. Smarika Shrestha, 32, of Nepal, began at the Moncton Hospital earlier this summer.

Poon, who speaks English, French and Cantonese, completed his medical degree at the University of Calgary in 2007, followed by general surgery training in Vancouver and thoracic surgery training in Calgary and at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New Brunswick.

He practised in Quebec for one year before moving to Saint John.

Shrestha earned her medical degree from Dalhousie University in 2010, went on to do general surgery training in West Virginia and recently completed her thoracic surgery training in Pennsylvania, according to the college.

She has not yet received her certification, the college said.

'The recruitment of two new surgeons will help patients have more access to services. This is a step in the right direction.' - Serge Melanson, Moncton Hospital chief of staff

"We understand the importance of a full complement of thoracic surgeons working in our province," Dr.  Serge Melanson, chief of staff at the Moncton Hospital said in a statement on Thursday.

"This is not something we take lightly."

The skills and expertise of the new recruits will help provide patients in the region, which stretches from Sussex to St. Stephen, with the care they need, close to home, the Horizon statement said.

In February, Dr. David Tees, chief of surgery for the Saint John area, sent an "urgent" memo to all members of the department of family medicine about a thoracic surgery staffing shortage.

"We have found ourselves in the difficult position of having no thoracic surgery coverage in Saint John or Moncton for at least four weeks," the email stated.

"We are working on finding a solution to this crisis."

Dr. Brian Johnston, a general surgeon with fellowship training in thoracic surgery, who has worked in the capacity of a thoracic surgeon at the Saint John Regional Hospital for nearly two decades, went on unexpected medical leave at the end of February.

Johnston worked alone for years and was on-call 24/7 for thoracic patients across the region and part of the on-call rotation for general surgery.

Moncton's only certified thoracic surgeon, Dr. Paul Dubois, went on unexpected around March and was "undergoing treatment," officials had said.

"The recruitment of two new surgeons will help patients have more access to services," Melanson said in the statement on Thursday. "This is a step in the right direction," he said.