Nova Scotia

As Berwick faces doctor shortage, local pharmacy helps fill need

As people in Berwick, N.S., deal with a shortage of family doctors, a pharmacy in the town is being honoured for its efforts in helping fill the gap.

'I'm not going to take the place of somebody's doctor, I'm just going to take the burden off them where I can'

Alice McNeil, Jillian Murphy and Michael McIntyre work at Wilson's Pharmasave in Berwick, N.S. They've been changing their hours and offering more services to help fill gaps created by the doctor shortage. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

As people in Berwick, N.S., deal with a shortage of family doctors, a pharmacy in the town is being honoured for its efforts in helping fill the gap.

Michael McIntyre, the pharmacy manager at Wilson's Pharmasave, said the town has struggled with a doctor shortage. Several physicians have left, including two family doctors who retired after a long, unsuccessful search for replacements. Their retirement left 3,000 people without physicians.

"It's a lot of frustration," he said of the feeling in the community.

That loss inspired the young staff at the pharmacy to step it up. McIntyre said their team consists of three pharmacists who finished school in the last five years or so, and their training put an emphasis on extra services beyond filling prescriptions.

He established a clinic on Wednesday nights that focuses on assessing minor ailments and processing refills, which pharmacists can now renew for up to six months in some cases. He said the team is also taking on more vaccinations and travel immunizations.

The team at Wilson's Pharmasave in Berwick was recognized for organizing community outreach initiatives to help with the local doctor shortage. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

"The majority of our patients are very appreciative that they have this other avenue to explore where they can have their medication needs met," McIntyre said.

For its work, the staff at Wilson's Pharmasave has been named team of the year by the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

"It goes to show that the work we're doing isn't for nothing. It's very motivating," said McIntyre. "I'm not going to take the place of somebody's doctor, I'm just going to take the burden off them where I can."

McIntyre said the downside of what the pharmacy is doing is that the services come at a cost to the patients. He said some are apprehensive to pay, but many are happy they don't have to turn to an emergency department to fill those basic needs.

Shirley Hiltz's mother-in-law is one of many people in Berwick without a family doctor, so the family has been relying more on the pharmacists to help them out.

"If the person doesn't have a family doctor and can't get to emergency, they need their prescriptions, so that's good they do that," Hiltz said.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said two doctors have started working in the community since April 2018, but at this time, no other recruits are on the horizon.

"It's not getting better anytime soon," said McIntyre. "There still is a fairly significant gap."

The health authority is asking anyone in the area who does not have a doctor to register on the need a doctor wait list by calling 811 instead of calling clinics directly.

About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now