Many P.E.I. doctors considering leaving or retiring, warns P.E.I. Medical Society

The Medical Society of P.E.I. calls the number of doctors who said in a recent survey they wish to leave, retire or downsize "frightening."

19% plan to retire, 13% considering leaving, 24% plan to reduce workload

'We see their frustrations and we feel them,' says Medical Society of P.E.I. president Dr. Kris Saunders. (CBC)

The Medical Society of P.E.I. calls the numbers in a new survey of Island doctors "frightening." 

The society sent an online survey to all P.E.I physicians in February, and say 64 per cent responded to it.

Of the doctors surveyed, 19 per cent plan to retire, 13 per cent are considering leaving the province and 24 per cent are planning to reduce their workload.

That means almost one-third of respondents plan to retire or leave. Looked at another way, a total of 56 per cent are looking at retiring, leaving or downsizing their practices.

"Those are certainly frightening numbers," medical society president Dr. Kris Saunders told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin Tuesday. 

Saunders noted it takes from eight to 10 years to train a doctor. 

"So if you think you are going to replace 185 doctors at the last minute, it's going to be quite a daunting task."

Saunders said the society is lobbying for a more active role in finding solutions to P.E.I.'s health care problems, including doctor recruitment and retention. 

Physician concerns

Saunders said the society can't be sure what is causing the decisions, but cited the society's "aging workforce" as a big contributor.

The survey asked doctors what was causing them the most professional work stress, and Saunders said they cited four issues: trying to provide timely patient care, administrative burden, accessing services for patients, and navigating the health-care system. 

Saunders said he thinks having doctors involved in planning, identifying problems and trying to find the solution is important, he said.

"We are on the front lines, we talk to patients every day. We see their frustrations and we feel them."

Long waits for specialty care for patients is a concern to Island doctors, Saunders said, and making decisions on recruiting and retention without those doctors in the room simply won't work.

Physicians recruit physicians

Physicians are the ones who recruit other physicians to an area, Saunders said.

"People don't come here because they had a conversation with government — they've had conversations with other physicians in the area to know what they're getting into."

For instance in downtown Toronto a general surgeon may be on call only every 12th weekend, where in Charlottetown they are on call every fourth weekend as well as one night every week. 

"People need to know that when they're coming," Saunders said. "The community is what's going to get people to stay here." 

Saunders said it is a problem that the province has capped the number of physicians allowed to practice in an area.  

Saunders said when introduced years ago the cap made sense and prevented rural doctors from pulling up stakes and relocating to Charlottetown. But he argues that since the province has invited many newcomers to P.E.I., and most of them have settled in Charlottetown, the cap needs to change. 

There are 13,000 Islanders on Health PEI's patient registry list.

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With files from CBC News: Compass