Nova Scotia

Health authority having some success at doctor recruitment despite pandemic

A Cape Breton woman who's been without a family doctor for more than a year is worried about COVID-19's effect on physician recruitment, but the Nova Scotia Health Authority says it has adapted its methods and is making some progress.

Province adapting by turning to digital marketing, virtual site visits, local medical residents

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says digital marketing, virtual site visits and focusing on local medical residents are helping bring family doctors to the province despite the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

A Cape Breton woman is worried about COVID-19's effect on recruitment of family physicians, but the Nova Scotia Health Authority says it has changed its methods because of the pandemic and is having some success.

Pat Lewis of Catalone Gut, a small rural community near Louisbourg, said she's been on the provincial waiting list to get a family doctor for more than a year.

"Right now, there's a blip in the COVID infections and everybody's rushing to their doctor to get looked after, but what's going to happen when the second wave comes and we're all locked up again and we all don't have doctors?" she said. "We need more family physicians in Cape Breton."

According to provincial statistics, more than 45,000 Nova Scotians are on the waiting list for a family doctor and just over 4,000 of them are in the Eastern Zone, which includes Cape Breton.

Lewis said she's frustrated by the lack of information on the province's progress on top of her concerns about access to doctors.

She said people are told to put their name on a list at 811.

"And then they don't give you any information where you are on the list, or when any doctors are coming, and there seems to have been a void now since COVID that nothing is being said whatsoever."

Pandemic has caused delays

In April, 13 doctors from other countries were being held up at the border due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Katrina Philopoulos, the health authority's director of physician recruitment, said the pandemic has caused delays, forcing officials to turn to digital marketing and virtual site visits to introduce international doctors to local communities.

"Travel was a big part of our role and our job and so we really had to adapt with our approach, given the global realities that we have now," she said.

Despite the difficulties, four international doctors have been allowed in since April and one of them is in Cape Breton, Philopoulos said.

"It's complicated and the process changes every day," she said.

"However, we've been working through that and we've had success at bringing them. It's a little bit more convoluted and a longer process, but again, we've had success."

In addition, three doctors from other provinces are now working in Cape Breton or are on their way and three others have agreed to take temporary positions on the island, Philopoulos said.

'Get on the waiting list'

The health authority has also turned its sights on medical residents at Dalhousie University whose plans have been impacted by the pandemic, she said.

The best advice for people without a regular family doctor is to register on the waiting list, Philopoulos said.

Lewis said she realizes it's not all doom and gloom, but more effort should be put into helping people in rural areas.

"COVID has done some good things," she said. "It has done the Zoom visits with doctors ... but things like nurse practitioners in small communities would be a grand idea."

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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