Nova Scotia

Dozens of retired N.S. doctors looking to practise again for COVID-19

Dozens of retired physicians have started the process of returning to service in Nova Scotia to help their colleagues dealing with COVID-19. Of the 326 Canadian doctors who have applied for malpractice protection this month to practise medicine again, 51 are from Nova Scotia.

'Whatever role they want from me, I'm here to do it,' says Dr. Chris Randall

Chris Randall is a retired family doctor. He said he's ready to come out of retirement to help with the COVID-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia. (Chris Randall)

Dr. Chris Randall is ready to come out of retirement for the second time in less than three years. This time, it's to help his mostly younger colleagues in Nova Scotia face the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 62-year-old's paperwork is done and he's just waiting for the call. Although he's unclear what work he will be doing, Randall is approaching it with the confidence that comes with a long and varied medical career.

"When HIV started back in the '80s, we knew nothing about it," he said. "I had no training about that."

"And yet I had cases back in Newfoundland and didn't know what the risks were to myself. A lot wasn't known. It's no different. I just use that as one example, but there are a multitude of examples like that throughout my career."

Randall, who mostly practised in Yarmouth, N.S., originally retired in 2015, but reinstated his license to practise in 2018 when the province was looking for family doctors to cover off practices for physicians on leave.

Dr. Gus Grant is the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. He said he's not shocked to see so many of his retired colleagues considering a return to work. (CBC)

Health officials preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 to Nova Scotia called Randall this month to ask if he'd be willing to lend a hand if needed.

"Whatever role they want for me, I'm here to do it," he said.

Although he hasn't been "deployed," Randall has offered to work in what will be called secondary assessment units, areas set aside for people suspected of having the virus and confirmed cases.

People over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the virus, but Randall, who considers himself a fit 62-year-old, doesn't believe he's putting himself at risk.

And he's not the only doctor considering practising again. 

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, 52 doctors from across Nova Scotia have asked about having their licences reactivated.

Todd Watkins is the managing director of Physician Services Canadian Medical Protective Association. He called the large number of retired Nova Scotia doctors looking to practise again 'tremendously out of the normal.' (Todd Watkins)

Doctors who retire rarely come out of retirement to practise again, said Gus Grant, the college's registrar. But he said he's not shocked to see so many of his colleagues exploring that possibility.

"There's rarely a day in my life that I'm not proud to be part of the medical profession," said Grant.

"The pandemic has given rise to a call and physicians, by their very nature, even when they're retired, are hardwired to want to help."

In anticipation, the college has fast-tracked the licensing process for doctors who want to practise again.

"These retired physicians are known to us, their history is known to us, their training is known to us, their competence and character is known to us, so it's an extremely quick process," said Grant.

Only 7 licences reissued so far in N.S.

Despite that, to date, the college has reissued only seven licenses. Grant is confident more will be ready soon.

The national organization that provides doctors with malpractice protection has also made it a priority to handle cases involving doctors who want to return to service.

Todd Watkins, managing director of physician services for the Canadian Medical Protective Association, said 326 doctors have applied so far this month to have their protection reinstated. Of those doctors, 51 are from Nova Scotia.

"That's tremendously out of the normal," said Watkins.

He said the association has offered protection to the 51 Nova Scotian doctors who have requested it.

The association saw a number of physicians return to service during the SARS outbreak in 2003, but Watkins characterized that as "a bit of a blip" in comparison to the number of doctors coming forward in recent weeks.

About the Author

Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.