Unnecessary duties have N.S. doctors looking elsewhere, warns specialist

Dr. Amy Hendricks says she has no plans to leave Antigonish where she works as an internist, but she can't say the same for her overworked colleagues.

3 internists have left Antigonish in the last year, says Dr. Amy Hendricks

There are just 4 internists at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., after a series of departures in the last year. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Administrative tasks that are being put on the plates of physicians in Nova Scotia are driving doctors out of the province, warns a specialist in Antigonish who worries more of her overburdened colleagues will pick up and leave.

In the last year, Dr. Amy Hendricks said three internists have left St. Martha's Regional Hospital, leaving just four to do the job of eight people.

The small group is "definitely overworked," she said.

"We pay a price in terms of access to outpatient appointments. We pay a price in terms of our health, and our time with our families. And it's not really sustainable."

Hendricks moved her family to Antigonish from Yellowknife two and a half years ago after being recruited to start a new cardiac ultrasound program.

"I knew that because I was here, people wouldn't have to be sent to New Glasgow for an ultrasound of their heart, they wouldn't need to travel to Halifax to have a pacemaker or defibrillator checked," she said

Dr. Amy Hendricks says she would be significantly happier with her job in Antigonish if she didn't have to find her own replacement for when she wants time off. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Hendricks has been charmed by her new colleagues and neighbours, but she's concerned with the workload and the requirements of the job.

The biggest shock, she said, was discovering that on top of her duties as a doctor, she has to recruit her own replacement if she wants or needs time off. That means finding qualified doctors to come to Antigonish and walking through the licensing process, which can take months.

"I was completely unaccustomed to that concept. It was not my job to find qualified internists to come up and work in Yellowknife ... I'm the one who pays the price if that doesn't happen." 

While she has no plans to leave, she can't say the same for the other internists at the hospital.

"Currently I know if we lose a department member, I'm down to one in three," she said of her on-call responsibilities. "It would be no one's job to help me with that." 

Hendricks isn't the only specialist at St. Martha's who's concerned about the way locums are arranged. In the summer, Dr. Lucas Wasserman told CBC the process to get a locum physician a licence was fraught with red tape.

Grayson Fulmer, the health authority's senior director of medical affairs, agrees there's work to be done when it comes to helping doctors achieve a better work-life balance. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority admits it's heard this concern from other physicians.

In a statement, Grayson Fulmer, the senior director of medical affairs, said the authority is working with the provincial Department of Health and Wellness to try to develop a better system and offer physicians a better work-life balance.

Hendricks said the solution is having the authority hire staff specifically to recruit locum physicians.

"I would have a very different stress level than I currently have and a different outlook because I would feel supported," she said.

Hendricks would also like to see Dalhousie University send residents to the community.

She said that would help the working physicians and potentially help recruitment in the long term. The province is increasing the number of specialist residency spaces at Dalhousie by 15 starting next July.

Hendricks hopes other physicians will decide to call her community home.

"I love the people that I work with," she said.

"The patients of rural Nova Scotia are grateful for their care. I get a lot of Cape Breton hugs, which doesn't hurt."

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