Health professionals from seven northern European countries gather in Thunder Bay Thursday for a conference about a problem they all share: the challenge of recruiting and keeping health-care workers.

Hosted by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, conference delegates will share ideas on how to overcome the barriers and attract the medical professionals they need. 

School dean Roger Strasser said northern communities — whether in Ontario or in Europe — all have the same goal. They want equal access to care, no matter where people live.

Dr. Roger Strasser

The dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Dr. Roger Strasser, says there is plenty of demand for medical specialists in northwestern Ontario. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

The conference is underscored by the similar challenges of "small populations, large distances, [and] the intervention of the weather and the climate,” he said.

The medical director at a hospital in northern Iceland said "it has been difficult to get qualified health-care personnel in the remote and rural area[s]."

Sigurdur Sigurdsson

Iceland's Dr. Sigurður Sigurðsson is giving a presentation at the conference on Thursday about the results of a survey of rural health workers that will help show what is needed to recruit and retain them. (Supplied)

Dr. Sigurður Sigurðsson has been working with colleagues from Sweden, Norway, Greenland, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland to find solutions.

"We wanted to try to ... figure out in what way we can help turn this around,” he said.

Sigurðsson said there are some key factors to address when recruiting in rural areas.

“People are afraid of professional isolation,” he said.

“Another key factor is, what about the spouse? Does he or she get a job where the doctor or nurse is moving?"

Sigurðsson said it's important for governments, hospitals and communities to invest in solutions to those kinds of concerns.

Conference agenda/speakers: