Headhunters promise 'escape' from Alberta for doctors, health-care workers

Alberta health-care professionals are being wooed to British Columbia and Ontario, where recruiters say the grass is greener.

Recruiters suggest the grass is greener away from province's political strife

The AUPE carries out a wildcat strike outside of Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton on Oct. 26. (David Bajer/CBC)

Alberta health-care professionals are being wooed in targeted recruitment campaigns to British Columbia, Ontario and other provinces where employers say the grass is greener.

But Alberta's UCP government isn't bothered and believes low taxes, along with high pay, will keep Alberta competitive and continue to attract health-care professionals and doctors. 

Dr. Don Wilson is one of those leaving the province. 

Mapping out his career, Wilson expected to spend another decade in Alberta. Now he's headed for British Columbia, packing up his practice, his home and farm.

He doesn't have a permanent position waiting.

"I made a decision to leave a guaranteed full-time job in Calgary," Wilson said. "My decision was not made based on how much money I make in Alberta and how much I would make in British Columbia. It's purely because it's a moral, ethical choice for me to go out of a system that is heading very much in the wrong direction in the hands of the UCP."

British Columbia is where he wants to retire, so that's where Wilson and his husband are moving. 

"I've definitely become aware of significant numbers of recruiting ads from different provinces — all the way from P.E.I. — that have come across my own Facebook feed," Wilson said. 

Denning Health in British Columbia is targeting Alberta Doctors in an ad campaign. (Submitted by Tom Yearwood)

An ad from Denning Health Group doesn't beat around the bush: "Doctors — Escape the Politics."

CBC News reached president Tom Yearwood as a wildcat strike was taking place across the province.

"What's going on in Alberta has been national news for some time, and based on today's events, it looks like things are getting worse, not better," Yearwood said. "It may appear to be somewhat opportunistic. But the fact is, if the doctors are leaving, we would like them to come to British Columbia, and specifically to join our group."

The province isn't bothered by campaigns to attract its health-care workers and doctors. Steve Buick, press secretary to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, wrote that the province continues to attract physicians.

"We have low taxes and high wages and benefits for skilled people who are the most mobile between provinces, so I wouldn't expect any significant change," Buick wrote. "An ad bought by a Vancouver clinic owner does not change the facts." 

Buick noted the province hasn't seen doctors fleeing the province, with a net gain of 246 physicians in the third quarter of 2020. He said figures that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association say don't tell the whole story.

Yearwood said if doctors are unhappy, they will vote with their feet. 

"Regardless of what compensation somebody gets, if you're unhappy where you work, you're going to look for the door," Yearwood said. 

Ottawa-area recruiting 1,000 positions

In Ontario, an unprecedented recruitment campaign is underway. Nineteen hospitals, a medical laboratory association and three long-term care companies are working together on a Canada-wide recruitment campaign running for 100 days.

Greg Hedgecoe is vice-president of people performance and diagnostic services at Queensway Carleton Hospital.

Over the summer, hospitals in the Ottawa region went on a hiring spree but ended up stealing talent from each other. So they had to change their approach, Hedgecoe said.

"In Ottawa, we have a limited pool," he said. "For the most part, we ended up hiring away from each other and still leaving our region with a gap. And so we decided to come together as a region and recruit from areas across Canada."

When Alberta's health minister announced 11,000 public sector health-care contracts were being outsourced, Alex Munter, CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), hopped on Twitter. He asked Alberta workers to bookmark the recruitment job page.

CHEO is one of the 19 hospitals involved in the Ottawa-area push for workers.

"Yo! Health care workers in Alberta (or anywhere else for that matter): we're hiring at CHEO in Canada's Capital," he wrote, attaching a news article about the Alberta Health Service cuts.

Buick wrote that Alberta doesn't have a surplus of workers, even with the announced job cuts.

"We've been clear, there will be no net reductions of nurses or other frontline/clinical staff during the pandemic. There may be some reductions in services that are being contracted out, but in lab services, for example, we expect minimal reductions, in fact, most current staff will likely just transition to a new employer."

Calgarians gather to protest cuts to public service after the 2020 budget. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Hedgecoe said Ontario's health-care conversations stand in stark contrast to the climate in Alberta. He said the region is looking to invest in public health care.

They need nurses, personal support workers and medical laboratory technologists — 1,000 positions in total.

"We're very interested in any Albertans that are interested in moving to Ottawa to explore that opportunity," Hedgecoe said. "My message to Albertans in the health-care community is we're hiring and we're a great place to live and work."


Helen Pike


Helen Pike is CBC Calgary's mountain bureau reporter, based in Canmore. Her reporting focus is on stories about life, wildlife and climate in the Rockies. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.