Physician recruitment efforts at Prince George Regional Hospital are beginning to pay dividends, according to officials with the Northern Health Authority.
Reports that the city continues to lose critical specialists suggested the hospital continues to have problems attracting doctors to town, despite the opening of the new Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern B.C. in September 2004.
But NHA spokesperson Mark Karjaluoto says arrivals are outstripping departures and by a large margin.
“I can confirm that we will be having a few departures here over the next little while. But on the flip side I can confirm that we have 20 arrivals over the next little while.”
The hospital will lose an anesthetist, a psychiatrist, an internal medicine specialist and an obstetrician within the next two months.
Three of those four will be replaced and other specialists added, said Karjaluoto.
The 20 doctors that have either already arrived or will arrive by late fall include two orthopedic surgeons, one psychiatrist, one internal medicine specialist, an obstetrician, a part-time radiologist and two emergency room physicians.
Prince George will also see 12 new general practitioners arrive by the end of the year. Karjaluoto said he isn’t aware of any family doctors who have left town since January 2003.
Two pathologists, an anesthetist, a urologist and a pediatrician are also scheduled to visit the city this month as part of the recruitment campaign. And NHA recruiters regularly attend physician specialist conventions.
“We’ve got a couple of things working in our favour, not least of which is the [Northern] Medical Program that is generating interest,” said Karjaluoto. “There’s still work to do and there will always be a degree of attrition as happens in any organization. But this is promising if we can keep going in this direction.”
Dr. Bert Kelly, an outspoken critic of the NHA’s recruitment efforts in the past, continues to reserve judgment on the success of the current campaign. He does so for one reason.
“The Prince George agreement certainly stabilized medical services in Prince George and did lead to a small but growing recruitment,” he said, referring to the doctors’ deal negotiated following the massive health care rally in 2000.
“Since the Prince George deal was scrapped it looks like it’s not going to be that favourable, despite the hopes that the medical school itself would have a stabilizing effect.”
The B.C. Medical Association last winter negotiated a province-wide deal with the government that was modeled on the Prince George deal.
That has taken away the so-called Prince George advantage. And it could still hamper long-term recruitment efforts, said Kelly.