North Peace Division tells recruits “come for the job, stay for the community”

Across the province, local divisions are struggling to retain and recruit family doctors. In some communities baby-boomer family physicians are hanging up their stethoscopes faster than they can be replaced. In others, GPs are moving their practices to communities that can better support their partners’ careers. Whatever the reasons, recruitment and retention is an urgent priority for divisions throughout BC. The North Peace Division of Family Practice, which encompasses Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope, is one of the divisions that has recently been hit hard by a loss of family physicians.

“We’ve gone from 31 GPs to just 21 in ten months,” says the Division’s Executive Director Mary Augustine. “That’s very difficult for a small community to absorb.”  She adds that in order to keep up with the volume of patients in Fort St. John, they need a minimum of eight additional physicians – and the sooner the better.

“The recent loss of doctors has put a strain on our health care community increasing the risk of physician burnout. We’re working hard to find new recruits,” says Augustine.

While the North Peace Division is certainly not alone when it comes to its need for new doctors, being a small community in the north of the province makes recruitment even more difficult.

“Attracting physicians and their families to a more remote community is an added challenge,” says Mary. “Our recruitment package includes things like recreational passes and other little perks that will help new physicians and their families get to know our community and get off to a good start.”

Mary says the Division’s latest recruitment tool – a video posted on its homepage promoting the benefits of practicing in the North Peace – takes a light-hearted approach.

The video calls to mind a late-night infomercial and, dripping with wit, at one point asks if the viewer yearns for “shiny new state-of-the-art hospital facilities, making a difference, trying new things, bacon, kittens, happy faces and endless recreational and cultural activities”.

“The video isn’t a traditional approach to convincing people to consider a practice with us but we wanted to go beyond the relocation and financial support available to show who we are as a community,” says Mary. “Not only do we have a new state-of-the-art hospital facility, we have supportive and welcoming people. That’s something we wanted to get across when asking others to come join our community.”

The video stands out not only for its tongue-in-cheek approach but also because the script was written by one of the Division’s members, Dr Danette Dawkin. “Dr Dawkin’s involvement in writing the script is a perfect example of how involved our doctors are in the Division,” says Mary. “It’s a very supportive community, which I think is important for new recruits,” she says, adding there is a strong commitment to mentorship among the Division’s doctors, making it a great place for new doctors and residents.

While the video is the recruitment tool that best gives a sense of the Division as a community, it is not enough to secure them the new doctors they need. “We’re exploring different ways of attracting new doctors. We’re working on making our website a more robust tool and we’re also interested in face-to-face recruitment opportunities.” The Division plans to attend the Rural and Remote Medicine Course from March 27-29 in Banff as an exhibitor, as well as the Rural Emergency Continuum of Care conference in Penticton from May 30-31. Mary notes that they are also looking into international recruitment options and whether industry partners in the community could play a role in attracting new doctors.

Last year the North Peace Division lost one-third of its doctors in such quick succession that it might as well have been overnight. But there is no quick-fix solution. “Our focus is on working hard to fill these gaps and make sure our doctors and patients in Fort St. John know that we’re mobilizing and making this a priority,” Mary says. “We at the Division know what a great team of physicians we have up here. We know that we have a wonderful community and that we offer every support we can to help newcomers make the transition. Our job right now is to showcase all we offer to as wide an audience as possible.”