Nova Scotia

Cape Breton doctor says Sydney needs medical licences

A Sydney doctor is warning that a wave of physicians is approaching retirement at a time when thousands of people in Cape Breton can't find a family doctor.

Some retiring family doctors have caseloads of 5,000 patients

"A wave of retirements" coming in Cape Breton, warns Sydney family doctor. (CBC)

A Sydney doctor is warning that a wave of physicians is approaching retirement at a time when thousands of people in Cape Breton can't find a family doctor.

Dr. Jeannie Crosby said 70 per cent of physicians in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are older than 55 and many are carrying caseloads of 5,000 patients or more. 

Crosby has been a GP at the Sydney Family Practice for most of her life.

"We'd like to retire sometime soon," she said. "So we need some licences in Sydney."

Right to worry

Dr. Jeremy Hillyard is medical executive director for the eastern district of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

He said Crosby is right to be worried.

"Some of those physicians who are considering retirement are practicing single-handed and have very high caseloads,'" he said. "We know from experience [that] it's difficult to recruit into those types of situations.

"The new graduates have been trained in such a way that they spend more time with more complicated cases and they wouldn't be able to cope with that number. Some of those physicians will need two or more replacements when they retire."

Difficult process

Crosby said the last time an attempt was made to bring a new doctor into her practice, the process proved difficult.

Dr. Gus Grant of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia says some students studying offshore may not qualify under the province's licensing standards. (CBC)

"I know that we had to work hard to get a young female here," she said. "We didn't think it was going to be a problem and suddenly it was a large problem two years ago."

Crosby said the challenge was getting approval for a new doctor in Sydney.

Four years ago, the Nova Scotia Health Authority decided its vice-president of medicine would determine where doctors were allowed to practice.

Special needs area

Hillyard said Cape Breton County is now considered an area with special needs, so new doctors will likely be approved.

"The need in Inverness, Richmond and Victoria counties is judged to be less acute."

Ten doctors, described as GPs by the minister of health, have been approved to practice in Cape Breton.

Six will be located in Cape Breton County and the others across the island.

The Department of Health said all of them are replacing doctors who are leaving or retiring.

'We'd love to recruit them'

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, between 4,000 and 5,000 Canadian students are studying medicine outside of Canada. 

"I would like to be able to recruit them because they have local connections," said Hillyard. "We would love to recruit them but licensing can be an issue in that situation."

The College of Physicians and Surgeons makes those licensing decisions.

CEO Dr. Gus Grant said some of the students studying offshore "are looking to return back to Canada but aren't meeting the standards for licensure here."

Grant said, at this time, the college is "not prepared to alter the standards for licensing in order to meet the needs of Nova Scotians in under-served areas."

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