The emergency department at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is losing six of its doctors over the coming months.

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The emergency department at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is losing six doctors in the coming months. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Dr. David Wood, the ER's chief and medical lead, told CBC News most of the departing physicians come from elsewhere in Canada — and with a doctor shortage across the country, hospitals closer to their hometowns are recruiting.  

"It's an opportunity for them to return home at a time when they can be assured of ... a position at a hospital where it's convenient for them to be around family," he said.

Wood said the emergency department is already short-staffed. In the past year, two doctors retired and another left.

Some annual turnover is normal, he said, but added that it was a particularly gruelling winter for emergency doctors and nurses at Thunder Bay Regional.  The hospital was often in gridlock and struggled with delays admitting patients from the ER.  Wood said workload can be a factor in physicians' decisions to leave.

Asking ministry for help

The good news, he said, is that three emergency doctors have just finished their residency training at the hospital and are staying on as staff. 

While that will help, Wood said the ER has a lot more recruiting to do.  

"If we can get another six to 10 physicians, we'd be quite ecstatic." 

In the meantime, Wood said his team is determined not to let the staffing shortage affect patient wait times.

"We've decided, as a group of emergency physicians, to increase the percentage of shifts that we're all going to be working," he said.

"We take the role we've got seriously ... and I don't think that we can expect anyone else to solve our problems if we're not actually going to take a step towards that ourselves." 

Wood said the hospital is asking Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for relief, including sending more doctors to Thunder Bay on temporary placements.

It is also asking for more support for physician recruitment.