Doctors in Sudbury taking new patients — a welcome change from ten years ago

Family doctors and nurse practitioners in Sudbury are taking on new patients. That's a big change from 10 years ago when the city was facing a dire shortage of primary health care providers.
There are slightly more than 115 family physicians in Greater Sudbury. That is the same figure that has been established as the ideal number to meet the needs of Sudbury's population. (CBC)

The days of long waiting lists for primary health care providers in Greater Sudbury may be coming to an end.

For the first time in over a decade, family doctors and nurse practitioners throughout the city are actively taking new patients.

There are slightly more than 115 family physicians across the city. That's one for every 1,380 people.

115 has been established as the ideal number to meet the needs of Sudbury's population says Ryan Humeniuk, the city's physician recruitment coordinator.

Since the city's physician recruitment program began in 2008, 62 family doctors or nurse practitioners have started working in Sudbury. Another 15 are slated to set up their practices here in the next few years.

Humeniuk says working alongside the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) has been key to solving the problem.
Ryan Humeniuk is the physician recruitment coordinator for the City of Greater Sudbury (LinkedIn)

"The incentive component allows us to essentially secure medical learners that are a year, to two or three years away from practice. It allows us to obtain commitments from them, and to be more proactive and work with them to link them to various practice opportunities within the community," Humeniuk explains.

"About 47 per cent of our family physicians have under 10 years in practice."

He calls that's "a good-news story" for Sudbury.

Still, Humeniuk notes there's a significant contingent of local physicians nearing retirement, meaning there's still plenty of work to be done.

"The second-highest segment, at 25 per cent is [physicians who've been practicing] for 30-plus years, so we're anticipating retirements in future years. What this program has allowed us to do is to address those needs," Humeniuk says.

Anyone without a primary health care provider is encouraged to register with Health Care Connect through their Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

In 2007, when the recruitment plan was being designed, Humeniuk says the city was short by 24 family physicians, with a further 18 set to retire.

He says at that time there were estimates of around 30,000 individuals in the area who did not have a primary healthcare provider at the time.

Not entirely resolved

David Courtemanche, the executive director of the City of Lakes Family Health Team, says they use the province's Health Care Connect list to match patients with providers. But the Family Health Team also keep its own list of orphan patients.

He says they've been working closely with the municipality and NOSM to attract physicians.

"The vast majority of physicians are located within the core of the community," Courtemanche notes.

"Having clinics in Val Caron, Walden and Chelmsford has enabled us to attract about a dozen family physicians to those outlying areas."

When it comes to the status of physician recruitment in Sudbury, Courtemanche is cautiously optimistic.

"It's trending in the right direction. I don't think the problem has been entirely resolved. There still are thousands of people in Sudbury who don't have a family physician, so there's still work to be done," Courtemanche says. He adds that many patients are choosing team-based and home care.

"I think the time will come when if you choose to have a family physician, you'll be able to have access to one."

With files from Benjamin Aubé