‘Positive indications’ for N.S. specialist recruitment, but lots of work remains

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Health authority officials in Nova Scotia are hoping modest doctor recruitment gains in 2018 carry into this year, but don’t expect to hear them celebrating any time soon.

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Numbers from the Nova Scotia Health Authority show 56 new specialists were recruited between April 1 and Dec. 31 of 2018. The majority — 34 — were assigned to the central zone, while seven each went to the northern and eastern zones. The remaining eight found work in the western zone. 

Those gains were tempered, however, by the fact that 50 other specialists left the system in the same year.

The province’s physician resource plan forecasted needing 1,000 new doctors between 2016 and 2025, with about an even split between specialists and family doctors.

2019 appears positive

The 2018 numbers reflect recruitment efforts from the previous year, which included a greater emphasis on searching internationally, said Grayson Fulmer, senior director of medical affairs for the health authority.

There are “positive indications” the authority is on pace for 2019 recruitment to be 20 per cent over last year’s numbers, he said.

But that’s about as much credit as Fulmer is willing to pay efforts so far.

“There’s still more to go to make sure we’re matching the right people with the right vacancies,” he said.

Much of the recruitment effort is at the resident level, but that takes time because people have to finish their training before they’re able to begin work.

“Often cases we’re talking to residents 12 to 18 months out, and that’s where we’re trying to make our offers and confirm that,” said Fulmer.

Grayson Fulmer, senior director of medical affairs for NSHA, says recruiting efforts will remain at a high level. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Of the 50 specialists who left the system in 2018, 25 moved outside of the province, 20 retired, three resigned and two left for education purposes. 

The number of departures and reasons varied by zone:

  • Twenty departures in the central zone, including 10 retirements.
  • Twelve departures in the western zone, including seven retirements.
  • Twelve departures in the eastern zone, including eight relocations and two resignations.
  • Six departures in the northern zone, including four relocations. 

No one was available to speak specifically about the numbers for the eastern zone, which includes Antigonish and Guysborough counties and Cape Breton. 

Fulmer said departures other than retirement often have to do with personal circumstances changing, such as wanting to be closer to family, issues with work volume and pay, or another career opportunity.

Record-keeping challenges

The current system tracking doctor departures is paper-based, meaning information must be manually gathered and compiled starting with a form the physician is asked to fill out.

Fulmer said doctors are generally co-operative with this approach. However, if a departure isn’t properly reported, the health authority has no way to capture it in the current system. Doctors are not employees of the health authority, which further complicates the process.

Officials want to automate the system so it can be linked with recruiting and job posting systems, said Fulmer.

Recruiter jobs still to be filled

He said interviews will happen this week to hire a director of physician recruitment for the province — a high-level strategy post. Officials are also finalizing the hiring of a recruiter to be based out of Antigonish and another who will be based in Bridgewater by the end of March. There is also a recent vacancy in Sydney that needs to be filled.

As well, plans are afoot to hire a senior recruiter to provide backup coverage as needed for the northern and central zones while also helping co-ordinate all efforts. When fully staffed, the recruiting team will have eight people.

“We’re doing everything within our power from the Nova Scotia Health Authority to recruit wherever and whenever we can,” said Fulmer.

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