How to get foreign doctors to come to P.E.I. (and stay)
Former recruiter provides MLAs with pointers on recruitment, retention of health-care professionals
Members of P.E.I.'s standing committee on health and social development were provided with advice Wednesday on how to get foreign-trained medical professionals to come to P.E.I. — and stay here.
"If you don't have a retention plan, you don't have a recruitment plan," Tanya Nace told MLAs.
Originally from O'Leary, Nace is executive director with the non-profit organization World Hope International. Before that she spent a decade working in recruitment around the world, "getting doctors, nurses, educators [and] engineers to third-world countries and war-torn zones."
P.E.I., she pointed out to MLAs, is not a war-torn zone.
"People go to those places to work. They want to come to P.E.I. They want to live here, they want to raise a family here."
The key, Nace said, is helping new arrivals through the inevitable culture shock that comes with arriving in a new country with a new job, particularly through the first two years, which are the most difficult and during which newcomers are most likely to leave.
Nace said working to retain a recruit "starts at the very first conversation" and requires Islanders to understand a person's needs and how to help them through the transition to a new country.
We have a great place to offer families, we have a safe location, we have wonderful schools.… I think doctors should want to come to P.E.I.— Tanya Nace, former recruiter
She said newcomers need a "safe" contact person, "someone you can contact and say like, 'I hate P.E.I. today.' ... And that person can say, 'It's OK, let's talk about that.'"
They also need a source of basic information about the community they've moved to — things like where to get medicine if their child becomes sick.
"They might be a doctor but they might not know which store is open until 10 p.m. for Tylenol."
Helping families acclimate is key
Nace said there should be multiple mentors involved in acclimatizing a recent arrival, with particular attention paid to how a person's family is settling in, because "the family is the No. 1 reason people return back to their homeland."
Nace said she doesn't know whether foreign-trained medical professionals face barriers in P.E.I. having their credentials recognized, and she doesn't know the details about how the province's current recruitment strategy works.
I'm not sure how much of that is driven solely by community, and how much is a real structural support system that we're putting in place.— Trish Altass, Opposition health critic
But she said she thinks P.E.I. can fill doctor vacancies by recruiting overseas.
"We have a great place to offer families, we have a safe location, we have wonderful schools.… I think doctors should want to come to P.E.I."
In the most recent sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature, Health Minister James Aylward tabled a list of initiatives undertaken by the province in its efforts to recruit and retain health-care professionals. It includes:
- A new program to provide first-day orientation and ongoing check-ins with recent arrivals.
- Development of a "physicians recruiting physicians" program in co-ordination with the P.E.I. Medical Society (launched earlier this month).
- A new marketing program and a new slogan for P.E.I.'s recruitment and retention secretariat: "Some see a postcard, you'll see a launchpad!"
Supports for retention
Liberals criticized the province's recruitment efforts, noting all 11 conferences that government attended looking for new doctors were in Canada, wondering why the province wasn't looking for doctors overseas.
After Nace's presentation, Opposition health critic Trish Altass said she has questions for the province about what supports it's providing to help retain doctors in their communities.
"I've heard of communities who are working independently to engage the doctors and nurse practitioners who have come to their community and make sure they feel included and support them in every way they can," Altass said.
"But I'm not sure how much of that is driven solely by community, and how much is a real structural support system that we're putting in place for our health-care professionals," Altass said.
The committee has planned for a series of meetings to further examine the issues of recruitment and retention. It's still waiting to hear back from both the Department of Health and Wellness and Health PEI.