Finding family doctor the 'ultimate challenge,' says immigrant
Mirza Islam says he and his wife have spent up to 5 hours in waiting rooms
An immigrant from Bangladesh says New Brunswick will need to solve its doctor shortage if it plans to grow the population by attracting newcomers.
Mirza Islam is an IT specialist and team lead at a tech company in Saint John.
That's the kind of skilled immigrant the city is looking for as part of its population growth strategy aimed at making Saint John the most welcoming community in the province.
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But after nearly two years in the city, Islam has come up empty-handed in his search for a family doctor.
He realizes it is a problem he shares with many others.
"It's not only about immigrants, it's about everyone," Islam said. "The ultimate challenge which I have been facing is the health service."
Islam said he and his wife have spent up to five hours waiting to see doctors at hospital outpatient departments and walk-in clinics.
He said he loves the friendliness and safety of Saint John but believes the lack of access to family doctors will be a barrier to attracting other skilled immigrants.
"Sometimes you have some chronic disease, sometimes you need to be under doctor's surveillance," he said. "In terms of that I think this is a wake-up call for everyone."
Islam even reached out to Premier Brian Gallant by email and received a followup call from a staff person in the premier's office.
But he said no one can tell him when he will get a doctor.
According to the Department of Health, almost 21,000 people in New Brunswick are on the waiting list for a family doctor.
Up to 60,000 in need
Health Region 2 (Saint John and area), has the highest number with 6,011, but Region 3 (Fredericton and Upper River Valley) and Region 1 (Beausejour Moncton) are close behind with 5,995 and 5,692 respectively.
And according to the New Brunswick Medical Society, when you include people who have no doctor and are not on the waiting list, the number climbs to 50,000 to 60,000 people.
The medical society recently joined with the Department of Health to launch Family Medicine New Brunswick, a model that would see small teams of family doctors co-operate in the care of a pool of patients.
It launched in Oromocto in January with four physicians and 4,800 patients.
More doctor openings
Department spokesperson Paul Bradley said the province also recently announced it would add 25 physicians and six nurse practitioners to improve access to primary care, although the additional openings for doctors have not actually been filled.
"This means that more than 20,000 New Brunswickers who do not have a family doctor today, could have access to a primary care provider once these positions are filled," said Bradley.
But physician numbers in themselves are not always a measure of access.
According to Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, there are 927 active family doctors in the province and 1,808 doctors in total.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, there were only about 1,100 active doctors, including specialists.
Despite the dramatic increase since then, Schollenberg said there are clearly still not enough to serve the needs of the population.
"Medicine's different, patients are different, their demands are different, and this is a reality," said Schollenberg.
Remarkably, he said, in some parts of rural New Brunswick, especially the north, it is far easier to find a doctor than in the major centres.
At the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Centre, managing director Mohamed Bagha said a lot of time is spent orienting new arrivals to the health care system, ensuring they register for health cards and getting them to sign on to the provincial waiting list for a family doctor.
"We all know it takes time for every New Brunswicker to get one," said Bagha, who found a doctor after a year.
But he doubted the lack of family doctors will cause people to leave.
Most new arrivals, he said, are young and fairly healthy.
"We have not seen anything where this has been brought to our attention where people will move because of a family doctor."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the managing director of the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Centre. His name is Mohamed Bagha.Mar 05, 2018 12:18 PM AT