Nova Scotia

How Halifax-area hospitals plan to handle the loss of Saudi medical residents

The physician in charge of medical staff at Halifax-area hospitals figures some patients may have to wait longer for surgery. But Dr. Mark Taylor says it is unlikely surgeries will cancelled when Saudi residents leave the country.

'The worst of it will be shortly after they leave,' says Dr. Mark Taylor

Dr. Mark Taylor said he and other senior staff members have spent the past two weeks assessing the potential impact of losing Saudi medical residents. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Halifax-area hospital administrators have come up with a plan they hope can mitigate the loss of 58 Saudi medical residents scheduled to leave Nova Scotia at the end of the month.

Dr. Mark Taylor, executive medical director for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone, said he and other senior staff members have spent the past two weeks assessing the potential impact of the loss. They have come up with proposals to cushion the blow for a while.

"This certainly took, obviously, everyone by surprise," he said. "Nobody expected this to happen.

"It's awkward for everybody to make very quick adjustments so we're doing our best to make the best of the situation."

11 departments will feel loss

Taylor, who oversees medical staff and services across the central region of the health authority, said 11 departments will feel the loss of the Saudi medical students:

  • Orthopedic surgery.
  • Cardiac surgery.
  • Neurosurgery.
  • Plastic surgery.
  • Cardiology.
  • Hematology
  • Urology.
  • General surgery.
  • Critical care.
  • Neurology.
  • General medicine.

Of those, it's orthopedic patients who are likely to be most inconvenienced because the department is losing six of its 19 residents.

"Orthopedics is a significant issue and so is cardiac so it is possible there'll be some delays, but I don't think it will be dramatic," said Taylor.

Although Dr. Bill Oxner, the head of orthopedics in Halifax, warned about possible cancellations, Taylor downplayed that possibility.

"No, it's not likely to," said Taylor. "It may lead to some delay, since we have fewer bodies to assess the patients and get them ready for surgery.

"It may be that there's some delay in getting them in. But probably it will not lead to cancelled surgery."

Remaining medical residents to be offered more shifts

Taylor said hospitals would be offering the remaining medical residents the chance to do shifts in specialty areas that will be the most depleted by the Saudi departures. 

"That is not a long-term solution, that's only a short stopgap measure." he said.

In the longer term, administrators are hoping to lure medical staff from other parts of Canada to Nova Scotia, including medical residents, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. They are commonly used elsewhere but not yet in Nova Scotia.

Can't make up for departing Saudis

But Taylor admits any recruitment drive won't fill the gap created by those leaving.

"Since there's about 58 or so there's absolutely no way we're going to find 58 people to fill those positions," he said.

"The worst of it will be shortly after they leave," he said. "Many of them have already stopped working and by the end of August they'll all be gone, so I think that the worst is likely to be shortly after that. Between now and the end of September is when we're likely to see the biggest impact."

Taylor said the health authority will need more money from the province to make the necessary adjustments but he didn't think the plan would costs millions. He could not offer an estimate of the eventual cost.

He did say Halifax-area hospitals would welcome the Saudi residents back if there was a change of heart.

"Oh, absolutely, if the government of Saudi Arabia were to change their policies I think we would be prepared to reconsider the entire situation."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia