Province says 18 doctors signed on to work on P.E.I. in 2020

A total of 18 physicians have signed on to practise on the Island in 2020, according to the P.E.I. government, yet there are still several vacant positions for doctors across the province.

Health minister hails recruitment efforts but still concerned about vacancies

The P.E.I. government announced Tuesday 18 doctors, in addition to dozens of students and professionals in other health positions, are being hired in the provincial health system. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A total of 18 physicians from various medical specialties have signed on to practise on the Island in 2020, according to an update from Health PEI. 

Yet doctors are still in high demand across the province; as of Aug. 24, there were 13,364 people on P.E.I.'s patient registry, the list of Islanders without family physicians.

Health PEI says the recent hires include 12 specialists and six family medicine doctors.

A news release issued Tuesday says 13 of the 18 have already started working on P.E.I. Five specialists will begin work later this year and another will come on board in 2021.

In an interview with CBC News, Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward said he was grateful to recruiters for their efforts in filling "high-demand" health positions.

"I'm always concerned when we have a vacancy, but you know, I think this announcement speaks volumes for the great work that's being done by the team," he said.

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, P.E.I. has been seen as a leader when it comes to controlling the health emergency across Canada, Aylward said. He added physicians are now reaching out with questions about coming to the Island.

Asked how many previous new hires have stayed on as doctors in the province in the past few years, Aylward said he didn't have the answer to that question but promised to look up recruitment and retention rates.

Doctor shortage previously identified

In the spring of 2018, Aylward, who was then Opposition leader for the Progressive Conservatives, took the Liberal government to task over the shortage of doctors in western P.E.I.

The province's physician recruitment co-ordinator later said P.E.I. had hired 20 physicians in 2018 and another six in 2019.

A 2019 post on the government's website notes that financial incentives have been used to attract and retain physicians from out of province or residents in P.E.I.'s training program.

In the June 2019 throne speech, the Dennis King government committed to identifying the needs and providing timely access to appropriate health-care services through recruiting and retaining doctors and other relevant professionals.

"We will make additional and sustained investments to primary care and specialized care to ensure the needs of Islanders are met — that every Islander has access to a doctor and that wait times in areas such as hip and knee replacements are lessened," the speech said.

Still hiring

The P.E.I. government's website lists several current job postings for physicians.

It shows the province is looking to hire more physicians in emergency medicine at Western Hospital in Alberton and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown; family medicine in the Queens and Prince primary care networks; specialists in areas including general surgery, pathology and oncology; and several locum positions in fields such as radiology, pediatrics, anesthesiology and psychiatry.

Aylward said recruiters are "working hard" to fill those vacant positions.

There are several job postings for physician positions on the P.E.I. government's website, including in emergency medicine at Western Hospital in Alberton. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Some of the new hires will be replacing physicians who are retiring, he said.

He said the a​​​​​ddition of some new specialists, such as a neo-natal specialist, will mean some Islanders will no longer need to travel out of province for certain procedures and types of care.

"We're better able to support these premature babies and, even more so, the entire family," he said.

Two family medicine sponsored residents will also be placed in the provincial health system in the coming months.

The government said in the release that so far this year, 76 graduate registered nurses, four graduate nurse practitioners, three experienced registered nurses and two experienced nurse practitioners have been hired.

Aylward could not immediately provide a breakdown of the new hires in terms of full time versus part time, or how many are permanent, temporary or casual. 

There were 78 nursing students engaged by Health PEI and private long-term care facilities this spring and summer, which the government said in the release is more than double the usual number.

Another 26 university students were hired this summer to work in health-care settings across the Island, the release said.

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