Nova Scotia·THE SEARCH

Young doctor using Facebook to recruit colleagues to rural Cape Breton

A family doctor in Neils Harbour in northern Cape Breton has posted a Facebook message to her former fellow med school and residency colleagues, hoping some of them will come and work in her community.

Neils Harbour facing ongoing physician shortage

Dr. Nicola Smith grew up in Dartmouth and has worked in rural Neils Harbour for more than two years. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

A young family doctor in northern Cape Breton has turned to Facebook to help her get some time off.

Dr. Nicola Smith, 32, grew up in Dartmouth, N.S., and has worked in rural Neils Harbour for two and a half years.

Just a few days ago, she directed a post to her friends on Facebook, hoping to interest a few doctors in covering some shifts this summer at Buchanan Memorial Hospital.

In four or five days, the post has been shared almost 300 times.

"That wasn't my intention. It wasn't to get all that attention and to get it to go viral," Smith said.

"I figured I went to school with a bunch of people who are now practising across the country, and I went to residency with a bunch more doctors, and I felt like I had enough friends on Facebook that maybe they might be interested, right?"

Smith said the community also picked up the post and started sharing it too.

"They know what a problem we're having here right now, so they kind of went and ran with it."

Summers are busy

Smith is one of three doctors practising full time in Neils Harbour. The other two are veterans who came out of semi-retirement when another doctor left the community because her husband couldn't find work.

Smith said she does occasionally get time off, but she spends part of that time trying to get other physicians to work in the area.

"Going into the summer months in Cape Breton, things are going to get a lot busier and that's when we're probably going to start feeling the crunch a bit more."

Smith's short-term goal is to draw people willing to work a few shifts a week, and maybe eventually fall in love with Cape Breton in the same way she did. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Smith's short-term goal is to draw people willing to work a few shifts a week, or maybe for the summer, but she's hoping someone — up to three someones, actually — will fall in love with the place the way she did.

"They can stay next to the hospital in the house and just be part of the community. It's not 'Come here, work your hours, get your paycheque and then leave,' because that's not, I think, the type of people that are attracted to this place or that we're looking to attract," she said.

Work-life balance

"Get out kayaking, get out with the dogs, get out in the canoe, go for a hike — and the physicians we've had in the past have taken advantage of that. That's a good reason to come here; it's a big part of why they should come here."

Today's med school grads are much less interested in practising family medicine under the old model, in which a doctor worked long hours with little time off, Smith said.

Dr. Nicola Smith is one of three doctors practising in Neils Harbour, though the other two are looking to soon retire. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"I think the young physicians coming out are very adamant about their personal time, and having that work-life balance that everybody talks about, and I think that's really important.

"You come to Cape Breton to be able to do those things and get out in nature, and you gotta make sure you actually do them when you accept that position, and not spend the whole time in the hospital."

As of Tuesday, Smith's Facebook post had already drawn interest from two doctors and talks are even underway to nail down some work dates for the summer.

With files from Gary Mansfield