British Columbia

In 'extraordinary' move, B.C. officials ask retired doctors to re-register in case COVID-19 worsens

College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. says it has never called retired doctors before

Posted: March 12, 2020

Hospital staff in full preventive clothing enter Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. Officials in B.C. are asking recently retired doctors if they'd be willing to come out of retirement should the coronavirus outbreak overwhelm the health-care system. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Officials in B.C. have begun the "extraordinary" measure of calling recently retired doctors in the province, asking if they'd be willing and available to come back to work if the current healthcare system becomes overwhelmed by COVID-19.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. initiated "emergency registration" for doctors who are qualified, competent and retired within the last two years at the request of Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer.

"This is extraordinary for us," said Heidi Oetter, the college's registrar. "We have never done this before. I've been in the practice of medicine for over 35 years in the province and I've never seen anything like this before."


The B.C. Centre For Disease Control said the risk of contracting the coronavirus in B.C. remains low, but the college said it is being proactive in case the health-care system comes under strain.

Health-care professionals have said the system could be stretched thin if the virus spread rapidly, creating a spike in critically ill patients needing help at the same time.

The college said retirees who agree to come back would be re-registered and called to work in their local health authority on an "as-needed" basis, "for the duration of this emergency situation."

The college's emergency registration happens "in extreme situations when there is potential for a strain on health-care resources."

Typically, the college calls on doctors from other provinces for support in situations such as extreme wildfire seasons in recent years. With COVID-19, other provinces don't have health-care workers to spare as they prepare for similar scenarios.


Slowing virus transmission will ease pressure on health-care systems over time by avoiding the spike in patients — known as "flattening the curve."

Leading health experts around the globe widely agree that washing your hands, staying home when sick and not touching your face are the first defences against contracting the virus.

Officials have urged the public to stop hoarding masks if they are not sick, warning the masks won't help against the spread of the novel coronavirus but will instead take important resources away from health-care workers. 

B.C. currently has 46 cases of COVID-19. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said the risk in the province remains low.

Henry, the provincial health officer, is asking residents to practise social distancing and avoid getting close to others, apart from when it's absolutely necessary.