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Health Minister Doug Currie says a new recruitment strategy is necessary to get doctors to commit to the Island. (Province of P.E.I.)

P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie said he's ready to pay medical students while they're at school as long as they promise to practise on P.E.I. when they graduate, he announced in the legislature Friday.

Currie said he has to do something to get new family doctors to commit to P.E.I.

A third of the current workforce is over the age of 55 and nearing retirement, he said.

So, he's willing to pay medical students a total of $110,000 each while they're in school, if they agree to practise on the Island. Students have to promise to stay on P.E.I. for at least five years, he said.

"There's been pockets and areas of Prince Edward Island that have struggled to stabilize physician services so this is just a creative way to look at providing health care services in areas of the province."

Currie says the recruitment incentive program will start next year with three students and it will continue for five years, guaranteeing that at the end of the program PEI will have at least 15 new doctors.

Health critic James Aylward said it sounds like a great program at first blush. But he said students have told him signing on for this program would force them to pick family medicine before they even know if that's the specialty they want to pursue.

"Do you look at postponing furthering your education to get that money to help pay down your debt and then hopefully go back into a specialized field? I would suspect that we're going to see that happen," said Aylward.

And if that does happen, Aylward sees a scenario in which students will let Island taxpayers pay their medical school costs. And then when the five-year commitment on P.E.I. is done, the doctors will pack up their stethoscopes, and leave.