Nfld. & Labrador·Critical Condition

Bursary program strong — despite $50K 'hiccup,' says John Haggie

The health minister faced a grilling in the House of Assembly, following a CBC story about a retention bursary and job offer that went south.

Miscommunication blamed for why doctor didn't stay in N.L. or pay back money

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie says the bursary program works well. (Damian Morrissey/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister admits there was a "hiccup" but insists the bursary program aimed at retaining doctors in the province is "very successful."

"It was an unfortunate situation which I was made aware of through the media. I have directed Eastern Health to describe to me the circumstances around their decision process and let me know," said John Haggie in the House of Assembly Tuesday afternoon in response to questions from the Opposition.

"We will look into this hiccup."

A CBC News story this week featured Dr. Christopher Nicholas, who was offered a position at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's during the middle of his residency in 2013.

That job offer was later rescinded for what he calls a "miscommunication" and Nicholas was told he did not have to repay the $50,000 medical resident bursary he had received.

Nicholas is now working as an interventional radiologist in Buffalo, N.Y.

Eastern Health has told CBC they couldn't comment specifically on Nicholas's case, citing privacy regulations.

'Very successful bursary program'

Haggie said Tuesday this is "only the second case in over two decades" that Eastern Health has had this type of issue.

"We do, however, have a very successful bursary program. We have 22 bursaries in actual fact, and in general these work very well," he said in response to several questions from Opposition leader David Brazil.

Dr. Christopher Nicholas said he and his wife were devastated when his job offer with St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's was taken off the table. (Submitted)

Premier Dwight Ball also defended the program on Tuesday.

"We have seen a number of our own that have come back through the bursary program and have offered and delivered some significant healthcare services, you know, to people all over this province," he told reporters.

Recruitment and retention

Brazil replied the incident was "more than a hiccup," pressing Haggie on what kind of message is sent when a health authority cancels an agreed upon job offer.

Haggie said recruitment and retention "has been an issue in this province for a considerable period of time" and progress is being made.

Nicholas said he was offered a position with the radiology department at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's in 2013, that was contingent on him going away for a year to do training in interventional radiology. (CBC)

"Our retention rates in this province for our own graduates are as good as any other jurisdiction," said Haggie.

"We have over 1,200 physicians in this province — the largest number we have ever had in this province — we lead the country in doctors per capita. It is not all doom and gloom."

With files from Jen White and Anthony Germain