Fort Macleod has a prescription to cure a doctor shortage.
The community was urged Thursday to work together with local doctors, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan to recruit more doctors.
“What we can accomplish separately can be so much more successful collaboratively,” said Kimberley MacKinnon, a community physician recruitment consultant with the Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP).
Doctor recruitment became an issue again in Fort Macleod in early January when the Fort Macleod Family Medical Clinic abruptly closed.
At that time there were just two doctors on staff in the Fort Macleod Medical Clinic. Dr. Anne Uwalaka has since joined Dr. Kevin Beekman and Dr. Tsvetan Parvanov in that clinic.
Fort Macleod Chamber of Commerce opted for a proactive approach to recruitment and invited MacKinnon to the February meeting at the Rural Alberta Business Centre.
MacKinnon said Fort Macleod is not alone in its quest to attract more doctors.
“There isn’t actually a country in the world that has a full complement of physicians,” MacKinnon said. “Doctors are needed everywhere so our competition is fairly fierce.”
RPAP is funded through Alberta Health Services and for 20 years has been involved in putting more physicians to work in the province.
Part of the work of RPAP is to encourage young people to consider studying medicine.
RPAP also attends world-wide physician recruitment fairs to encourage doctors to come to Canada.
“We touch thousands of physicians in Europe — mostly U.K. trained an Ireland — who are interested in coming to Canada,” MacKinnon said.
MacKinnon also works with communities to help them set up a plan to recruit doctors.
Formal attraction and retention committees have proven to have the most success in bringing new doctors to town.
MacKinnon said doctors are in demand and as a result have plenty of options to locate. That means a community has to work hard to make itself attractive.
MacKinnon recommended setting up a committee of seven to 10 people.
The committee’s role is to market the town, assist Alberta Health Services with site visits and help integrate new doctors into the community.
The support for doctors from the community should be ongoing, to ensure their experience in a community is positive. That can pay long-term benefits to the town.
“Doctors are the best recruiters,” MacKinnon said. “If doctors in your community feel supported, they will bring in other doctors.”
MacKinnon said in the case of married doctors, a community’s support for his or her spouse is critical.
“We hear over and over and over, my wife picked this site, my husband picked this site,” MacKinnon said of doctors settling in a community. “The family is the one that really needs the community’s support.”
Mayor Shawn Patience said he has been in contact with Alberta Health Services since the clinic closed to offer the municipality’s support.
Patience said the Town of Fort Macleod has a physician recruitment committee as part of its structure, but it has not been active since 2006-’07 when the community was down to one doctor.
“This is a good discussion,” Patience said. “This is a community discussion.”
Patience said council offered recruitment support early in January to Alberta Health Services and the Fort Macleod Medical Clinic.
“We’re prepared to have that committee set up,” Patience said. “We’re there. We’re ready to assist when needed.”
MacKinnon stressed Fort Macleod wants to be thorough in recruiting a doctor to ensure the right candidate is brought to town.
“We’re talking about attracting the right doctor,” Dr. Beekman said, adding support from the community in the recruitment process would be valuable.
Dr. Beekman agreed with Patience there is little that could have been done to stop the doctors that have left town — even in the last couple of years — from going.
The Fort Macleod Medical Clinic has moved into the larger space previously occupied by the other clinic. That has taken some time.
Dr. Beekman said his clinic has already conducted three interviews with doctors interested in Fort Macleod but cautioned the process does not happen quickly.
Dr. Beekman and Dr. Parvanov have to be assured a new doctor will fit in with the existing staff.
“There’s a lot of relationships at stake when you hire a new doctor,” MacKinnon agreed.
Dr. Beekman and his partner will be careful in their choice.
“My partner and I want to exercise a little bit of patience,” Dr. Beekman said.
Chamber members indicated they are willing to assist with recruitment.
“It’s up to us to make them feel welcome,” James Vandervalk said.
“Definitely the community committee has to be proactive.”
The Chamber called the meeting for that purpose.
“We can make a positive impact in working with the existing doctors,” Chamber president Srecko Ponjavic said.