Nova Scotia

Regular check-ins key to retaining physicians, says Doctors Nova Scotia

The organization that represents doctors in Nova Scotia says while exit interviews for departing physicians are helpful, what's needed are regular checkups before they head for the door.

Kevin Chapman says the group is trying to better support doctors long before exit interviews

Doctors Nova Scotia says it's deploying community outreach specialists who will meet with physicians on a regular basis. (Shutterstock/funnyangel)

The group representing doctors in Nova Scotia says while exit interviews for departing physicians are helpful, what's needed are regular checkups before they head for the door. 

Doctors Nova Scotia is deploying community outreach specialists to work with physicians on an ongoing basis, said Kevin Chapman, the group's director of partnership and finance. The idea is to hear concerns and provide supports long before an exit interview is needed.

"At that time, it's generally too late," Chapman told CBC's Information Morning. "So part of what we have to do is actually reach out to them earlier before they make a decision to leave."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has conducted just three exit interviews with physicians in the past year after committing in June 2016 to hear why doctors are leaving the province.

Level of commitment intimidating 

Chapman said Doctors Nova Scotia will pitch in to do exit interviews, although it's not always easy to know who's leaving.

What is clear, he said, is that family doctors are burned out. 

Doctors Nova Scotia recently toured the province and spoke with hundreds of physicians, many of whom said they're considering leaving, said Chapman. 

"So there's a lot of physicians who have been practicing for 30, 35, 40 years and in small communities," he said. "You're pretty much there 24/7, 365."

That level of commitment isn't appealing to many new doctors, according to Dr. Lisa Bonang, a family physician in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S. 

"Sometimes the idea of taking on so many facets of medicine can be intimidating to physicians, so I think that is a deterrent," she said. 

Dr. Lisa Bonang's collaborative practice in Musquodoboit Harbour meets with members of the Nova Scotia Health Authority on a regular basis to talk about challenges. (Submitted by Doctors Nova Scotia)

After 22 years in practice, she's seen colleagues leave the area for a variety of reasons, including wanting to live in a larger centre or take time to focus on family.

She said exit interviews are "extremely useful and important," but she wants better supports in place so those interviews don't have to happen so often.  

Bonang likes the idea of regular check-ins with doctors, and said her team already does that with members of the health authority. 

Proactive, not reactive 

"I think the way to address it is now, and not waiting for things to fester if there's an issue," she said. "We want to know about it ahead of time. So being proactive, rather than reactive is definitely the way to go."

That way, said Bonang, the health authority can provide resources for particular areas of the province, whether that means more "consultant support, allied health-professional support. It could be monetary support or even physical space."

"It's not an easy situation and it's certainly not an easy answer, but I think we are moving in the right direction," she said. 

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning