New Brunswick

Want more physicians? Tax less and recruit more doctors, medical society says

The New Brunswick Medical Society is trying to find ways to recruit more doctors after another Fredericton physician announced his departure two weeks ago.

A family physician in Fredericton notified his patients he will be leaving this fall

According to the New Brunswick Medical Society, in July of 2018, more than 44,000 residents were living without a family physician. (didesign021/Shutterstock)

The New Brunswick Medical Society is trying to find ways to recruit more doctors after another Fredericton physician announced his departure two weeks ago.

In a letter posted at his office, Dr. Dan Queen told patients it was a difficult decision, but he'll be spending most of his time working in both Ontario and New Brunswick starting this fall.

He went on to say he'll be "unable to meet the demands of having a family practice only being in Fredericton part time."

Queen promised his patients he'd do his best to find a replacement but said, "so far those efforts have been unsuccessful."

And he said he'd try to transfer the care of as many patients as possible to other family physicians or nurse practitioners in the community. But again, no guarantees.

This means many people will have to join the long list of people on Patient Connect NB waiting to be matched with someone who will be able to look after their medical needs.

Shortage isn't unique to province

According to the New Brunswick Medical Society website, as of July 2018, more than  44,000 New Brunswickers were without a family doctor.

Anthony Knight, CEO of the medical society, said the lack of family doctors isn't unique to New Brunswick. Other provinces face a similar shortage, including Nova Scotia.

Taxation is a concern. It certainly doesn't help our case when we're trying to attract physicians to New Brunswick.- Anthony Knight, New Brunswick Medical Society

Doctors and nurses are highly mobile in their professions — meaning they're in greater demand. 

"We may lose a physician to England or the U.S.," said Knight.

"But we can also attract physicians from other jurisdictions who are interested in coming to Canada and practising in our country."

Knight also blames New Brunswick's high tax rates and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's private corporations tax reform for the lack of doctors across the province.

"Taxation is a concern," he said. "It certainly doesn't help our case when we're trying to attract physicians to New Brunswick."

At the same time, New Brunswickers are aging and living longer with chronic diseases, so more people are trying to see doctors more often.

What more can we do?

According to the medical society website, there were 39 family physician vacancies across the province in July of 2018.

Calling the doctor shortage "a moving target," Knight said it's difficult to say how many physicians will be retiring in the next few years.

But he said a plan is needed for recruiting more graduates of the Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick program or the New Brunswick Medical Education Centre, a joint program with the University of Moncton and University of Sherbrooke. 

"One year you might get 10 or 20 graduates that want to stay and practise family medicine and in another year, you might get much less," he said.

"The shortage is difficult to put a precise number on it."

He said the medical society is working alongside the Progressive Conservative government to identify different strategies for enticing physicians to work in New Brunswick. But he said more needs to be done in collaboration with government, health authorities and physician leaders to make communities experiencing doctor shortages more attractive. 

Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says more needs to be done to keep doctors living and working in the province. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Knight is also calling on the province for a rural incentive program for doctors willing to practise in rural areas across the province.

"If you're willing to go to Campobello or someplace north in the province that's a less populated area, then there should be some recognition to the fact it's more expensive to travel from there to other parts," he said.

"You're more likely to be alone dealing with more complex patients and don't have the services of a major hospital to rely upon."

During the throne speech, Premier Blaine Higgs promised to eliminate New Brunswick's billing number system, which controls how many physicians are allowed to practise in the province and where.

The medical society is also working on the Family Medicine New Brunswick model, where doctors work in teams. The model gives patients better access to their doctors and also gives doctors a better work-life balance.

"That's the way early-career doctors are trained in medical school," he said.

CBC News has asked the province what it's doing to retain more doctors in New Brunswick and is waiting for a response. 

With files from Information Morning Frederictond

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