Nova Scotia

N.S. seeks border exemption to bring new doctors to province

At a time when health-care workers are more important than ever, the Nova Scotia Health Authority is asking Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada how to get special approval to bring 13 newly hired doctors to the province.

Arrival of 13 newly hired physicians delayed because of strict COVID-19 rules

Nova Scotia has focused heavily on recruiting physicians from the United Kingdom and Ireland in recent years. A number have been hired, but their start dates are now delayed. (Pascal Leblond/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is working with the federal Department of Immigration to see if exemptions can be made to bring 13 newly recruited international physicians to the province.

The doctors were scheduled to start between March and June, but after the border was closed in mid-March due to COVID-19, their start dates are now up in the air.

"We're very optimistic that these physicians are still coming," said Katrina Philopoulos, the director of physician recruitment at the health authority. "We maintain their interest by communicating with them regularly."

The new recruits are a mix of family doctors and specialists, and they were set to start their jobs in various communities across the province.

On March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the border was closing to all travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or Americans.

At a time when health-care workers are more important than ever, Philopoulos said they're asking Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada how they might get special approval to bring the new doctors to Nova Scotia.

The physicians are coming from the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States, she said.

"Things are evolving very quickly and every day there's a different story, so we're just working with them to find out what that process is."

Philopoulos said she's hopeful travel restrictions will be lifted by July, as even more physicians are slated to move to Nova Scotia in the summer months.

Medical conferences cancelled

The pandemic is putting a wrench in ongoing recruitment efforts which depend largely on travel.

The province's recruitment team was scheduled to attend at least six medical conferences in the next three months, including the Canadian Rural and Remote Medicine Course in Ottawa, and the American Psychiatry Conference.

"I would say they're all notable. Any travel opportunity, we're going because there's a need," Philopoulos said.

Site visits are a key part of the recruitment process, with physicians and their families seeing communities firsthand before they decide where they want to live. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Physician recruiting also largely depends on site visits. That's when doctors and their families check out communities to see if they'd be a good fit.

Philopoulos said a number of those planned visits are now off, but the recruitment team has been doing what they can to show doctors around, including taking them on virtual tours.

"They literally FaceTimed, and showed them around the community through their vehicle, getting out and showing the different aspects of the community and the facilities."

While some aspects of the job are stalled, some members of the recruitment team have been redeployed, focusing on reactivating retired physicians who are willing to come back to work to help with the pandemic effort.

Philopoulos said she wants people to know they'll continue their recruitment efforts, and more help will be here as soon as the doctors get permission to come.

"We're doing what we can given the situation that's at hand."

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

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