The Search

What Nova Scotia doctor recruiters can learn from B.C. as they target the U.K.

Dr. Simon Bonnington is touted as Nova Scotia's ideal recruit. But he says if he wasn't so determined to live in Nova Scotia, even he might have given up on the 'fiendishly difficult' process to work here.

B.C. has recruitment website with information about province's communities, staff to help navigate move

British Columbia's recruitment website for health-care workers provides information about the lifestyle in different regions of the province. The recruitment service helped Dr. John Trepess settle on working in Nanaimo, B.C. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A doctor who is helping Nova Scotia recruit physicians from the United Kingdom says some candidates have opted to go elsewhere because the process is so complicated.

Dr. Simon Bonnington, who moved from Somerset, England, to Annapolis Royal, N.S., says the transition is so "fiendishly difficult" he also had second thoughts before he moved to Canada.

"It's full of complexity and bureaucracy and the language that's used by the administrative places here — the Colleges — is a language that is not immediately understood," he said. "And if it doesn't translate from English English to Canadian English then you're scratching your head, 'What on earth is that all about?'"

Nova Scotia is shifting its recruiting efforts, putting more focus on physicians in the U.K.

Dr. Simon Bonnington says he knows of doctors who have opted not to move to Nova Scotia because there was not enough support to guide them through the complicated immigration and licensing process. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

On paper, it makes perfect sense. The flights are short, there are no language barriers, and unlike most foreign-trained physicians, their qualifications are accepted in Nova Scotia.

The province even has a considerable recruiting edge.

In 2016, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia made an exception to a policy, allowing experienced physicians in 29 jurisdictions to skip the Medical Council of Canada exams if they can prove five years of practice experience.

Bonnington says that is an excellent decision that will help the province, but he's calling on Nova Scotia to do more.

'Fiendishly difficult' process

He knows of at least four people who opted to go to B.C., Australia and New Zealand after trying to navigate Nova Scotia's bureaucracy. 

"You can't cry over spilt milk. That was then and this is now. Let's take the positives, let's take the opportunities," he said. "The pathway is much easier now — certainly much smoother than the one that I hobbled along."

Even without exams, the process includes dealing with immigration and health departments as well as the province's college of physician and surgeons, to name a few. Each step feeds information to a different organization.

In Nova Scotia, Bonnington does his best to advise recruits, but he says they largely navigate that system on their own.

"No one is doing that for you," he said. "If you are, as I was, utterly convinced that this is what you will be doing, then it doesn't matter. But if you are looking at Nova Scotia as an option amongst many, then perhaps it throws up barriers that you might not fancy taking a run at."

Learning from B.C.

While British Columbia is facing a similar physician shortage, it managed to gain doctors in 2016, while Nova Scotia's doctor population dropped, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information.

The difference in recruiting efforts becomes obvious with a simple Google search.

The government of British Columbia funds Health Match BC, which provides guidance to health workers outside the province who want to relocate. (CBC)

British Columbia has a free health-care recruiting service outside of the health authority, called Health Match BC.

The website shows a flow chart with exact steps on how to move and work in the province. It gives candidates estimates on timelines and costs, and information about lifestyle differences in each community.

None of that is available on the Nova Scotia Health Authority's recruiting page, which is simply a job board with a contact email.

"That's one of the things we've been wanting to get in place sooner than we have right now," said Joanne MacKinnon, who leads the physician recruiters. "Ideally we would like to have a fully functioning website, and that's something that is in the process right now."

Specialized support

A website might not seem like much, but for Dr. John Trepess and his wife Allison, it was the gateway that led them to Vancouver Island.

In 2015, they decided to fulfil a dream to move to Canada. They had their eyes on Alberta, where their son was in university.

Seven months before he moved to Nanaimo, B.C., Dr. John Trepess had never heard of the community. But he says recruiters with the Health Match BC system swayed his decision to plant roots in the city. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A year later, they moved to a city they had never heard of before the process started. They were swayed by Health Match BC, which introduced them to Nanaimo.

"It just made sense, without being sentimental about it," said Trepess, a family doctor from Somerset, England.

British Columbia's recruitment service, Health match BC, introduced Dr. John Trepess to the city of Nanaimo, B.C. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Health Match BC also has staff to help candidates through the tricky process of navigating each department. They advised the Trepesses on everything from licensing issues to switching to Canadian banking.

"It wasn't just the practical stuff," said Trepess. "It was the fact that you had this person to guide you."

Increasing U.K. efforts

Last year, Nova Scotia sent recruiters to a job fair in London, England, for the first time.

It was a chance to tout the lifestyle and the exam exemption.

MacKinnon estimates the health authority is in various stages of discussion with six potential recruits from that trip. Some are in the process of booking site visits.

Bonnington, who also attended the job fair, says this is an excellent first step. He says there's high burnout in the U.K., and sees opportunity in focusing recruiting efforts in that direction.

But he's encouraging Nova Scotia to learn from B.C.'s efforts in making the transition as smooth as possible.

Nova Scotia's health minister says he's listening.

Nova Scotia's Health Minister, Randy Delorey, says the immigration department, health authority and health department are working together to address some of the concerns about recruitment. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

Randy Delorey says these issues are on his radar, hinting that an announcement is coming. He says the immigration department, health authority and health department are working together to address some of these concerns.

For Trepess, that layer of recruitment meant all the difference in guiding him to a new home.

"What it did was confirm that B.C. was the place for us, if you like, so it just made it that much easier to come here. So could we have done it? Possibly, but it would have been so much more difficult and it would have taken us much longer, but there's also the possibility that we would have lost the thread."

About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca