Nova Scotia

N.S. government announces new recruitment program and incentives to attract more docs

A new website allows interested physicians to sign up for a call from a recruiter within 24 hours.

New programs offer bonuses for family doctors, specialists to work outside central zone

Premier Tim Houston says the province will take all the doctors it can get. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia government is launching a new recruitment campaign for doctors and it's putting up big money as part of the effort.

A new website launched Monday allows interested physicians to sign up to get a call from a recruiter within 24 hours. Assuming they meet the necessary licensing requirements, doctors could have conditional job offers within 10 business days.

"We know we have big needs across the province so we're putting it out there," Premier Tim Houston said in an interview.

"Seventy-five, 100 [new doctors] a year would be kind of what we would be looking at as a success."

Big bonus offers to work outside central zone

Nova Scotia's list of people in need of a primary care provider continues to grow. As of Feb. 1, there were 86,050 people on the list. The need for doctors is particularly strong outside of metro Halifax, which is why the province also announced two new programs aimed at recruiting doctors and retaining medical graduates in areas away from the capital city.

The new programs will pay bonuses to family doctors willing to set up practices or specialists willing to work outside the central health zone. Qualifying doctors can earn up to $125,000: $25,000 when they sign on and then $20,000 per year for five years if they meet certain targets related to seeing patients.

A Health Department spokesperson said the new programs are expected to increase eligibility to incoming doctors.

Of the approximately 130 doctors recruited to the province each year, only about 35 were able to take advantage of programs being phased out in favour of the ones announced Monday. Three education incentives remain in place.

The government also increased its incentives budget by $10 million, bringing the overall budget to $12.5 million.

The single biggest line item in the provincial budget is pay for doctors. Physician services were budgeted at $1 billion in the last budget. The most recent master agreement signed between the province and Doctors Nova Scotia in 2019 made family doctors and some specialists in the province the highest paid among their colleagues in Atlantic Canada.

More competitive recruiting efforts

Money isn't everything when it comes to recruiting, but Houston said it was decided more was required to "sweeten" efforts.

"We have a lot to offer in quality of life. There's no question about that. But on the compensation side, we recognize the need to make ourselves a bit more competitive, too, so it's an effort to do that," he said.

While the campaign makes particular mention of doctors working elsewhere who have ties to the province, that's not a requirement. A promotional video for the campaign says Houston could be the person calling prospective doctors, although the premier acknowledged most of the work will fall to a dedicated team of recruiters. 

The announcement comes on the heels of others focused on increased access in the health system.

'Big hill to climb,' says premier

The government recently provided virtual care access for all people without a primary care provider and announced pilot walk-in clinics using a nurse practitioner and pharmacists. There was also a recent wage increase for continuing care assistants, aimed at bolstering the ranks of that workforce to help a stressed long-term care system.

Houston and the Tories were elected in last summer's provincial election based on a promise to fix health care. During the campaign, he said it would take time and money to make change. With a promise that the upcoming budget will include a big investment in health care, the premier said it's his hope people will begin seeing improvements in the system as the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's a big hill to climb and we're climbing it one step at a time," he said.

"I believe that certainly over the next few months people should start to see positive momentum."

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