Truro to see wave of physician retirements this year

A family physician who is retiring in Truro, N.S., this summer says it was "blind luck" that he found a replacement, as the community braces for significant turnover with its primary-care physicians.

At least 7 family doctors to retire or leave central Nova Scotia town in 2018

Both Dr. Steve McCarthy and Dr. Robert Graham will be retiring from this family practice. There's no one to replace Graham; McCarthy delayed his retirement by a year in order to find someone to take over from him. (Carolyn Ray)

A family physician who is retiring in Truro, N.S., this summer says it was "blind luck" that he found a replacement, as the community braces for significant turnover with its primary-care physicians.

CBC News has confirmed at least seven family doctors in Truro will stop practising in 2018; six of those are retirements.

There are three or four new doctors lined up to help take over some of the work, and unless more are found, the departures could leave several thousand people without a doctor.

Dr. Steve McCarthy said it's a trying time for both physicians and patients.

"There's deep concern," said McCarthy, who is set to retire in August. "My colleagues are doing all that they can, especially absorbing more patients on their patient load from the retiring physicians as a service."

Delayed retirement

Just over 50,000 Nova Scotians are currently on a provincial waitlist for a family doctor. The government's efforts to deal with the province's physician shortage have included a recruitment trip to the U.K. and Ireland, and the resurrection of a foreign-doctor program axed in 2015.

McCarthy postponed his retirement for a year when he was able to find someone to take over his practice.

"I heard about this young man from a colleague and the timing was right for him," he said. "Many people, when they hear you're retiring, are quite anxious that they will have an interruption in their primary care."

The new physician will move McCarthy's patients from an office in a strip mall to a collaborative practice that is opening down the hall.

Truro Mayor Bill Mills says the town will join a committee that is focused on recruiting new physicians. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Among those who will lose their physician is Truro Mayor Bill Mills.

"There's this little cloud on the horizon that everyone's aware of," he said of the impending departures.

Wednesday morning, he met with the chief of adjacent Millbrook First Nation and the mayor of the Municipality of the County of Colchester to discuss the physician issue. They decided the communities will work with a committee run by local physicians that is aimed at recruiting new doctors.

"The move is afoot," Mills said of their efforts. He said they'll focus on helping the spouses of doctors find work. The town will also consider putting financial incentives in place to help with recruitment. 

"There's lots moving, just in the last 24 hours, about the whole issue of concern for more doctors to move to this area."

Extra recruiter

Truro falls under the Nova Scotia Health Authority's northern zone, which recruited just seven physicians last year. As of March 31, there were 17 posted vacancies in the zone for family doctors.

As a result, the health authority announced in April it is hiring another recruiter specifically for the region.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority recruited just seven physicians to its northern zone last year. (Shutterstock)

The health authority is also hosting a meeting at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre Wednesday night to discuss the creation of collaborative family-practice teams.

McCarthy said after a long career, which included 18 years in Truro, he's seen a lot of changes, and it's time for him to move on. 

"I think it's simply a matter of practising quality medicine and listening to what the patients have to say, and trying to do the best you can for them."

His final day will be Aug. 30. 

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