The family doctor shortage is hard for most people in Weyburn to imagine, considering that many of us had the same doctor for decades, but this is not a reality for most Canadians.
In fact, according to the Canadian Medical Association and Stats Canada, between four and five million Canadians are currently without a family doctor.
It is estimated that Canada would have to train between 1,500 and 3,000 extra physicians each year - on top of the current 2,400 - just to keep up with demand. Luckily, the Sun Country Health Region (SCHR) is working to increase the number of general practitioners in our area through a new bursary incentive.
Starting this fall, the Region will target third and fourth year medical students in the family practice stream, and first and second year residents, to take advantage of their medical bursaries. They are offering up to $100,000 in exchange for four years of service in SCHR.
The Region said they will target those applicants with rural backgrounds and a desire to work in a small community for the long-term.
Currently, about six communities in SCHR are short of doctors.
Hopefully, this incentive will bring more doctors to our rural communities, but getting doctors to move to small towns is not the only problem. Over-stressed and over-worked, the family doctor has become a less desirable position over the years. In fact, the reputation of family medicine has become so tarnished that, earlier this decade, less than 25 percent of graduating medical students across Canada chose to make a career in the general practice.
It seems that just when the job has become more demanding, wages for general practitioners have fallen in comparison to those of medical specialists and other professionals.
There is some hope, however. Provinces like Ontario and Alberta have begun Family Health Teams and Primary Care Networks. These similar programs take a team approach to health care. The programs link doctors with other health professionals to provide more seamless, coordinated care. Team members often include several family doctors, nurses, social workers, dieticians and pharmacists.
Established in Alberta seven years ago, Primary Care Networks now serve more than 67 percent of all patients in the province.
Doctors working as part of a team often feel that they can do their job more efficiently, allowing them to take on more patients. Perhaps this team approach to medicine will catch on in Saskatchewan as a way to deal with the doctor shortage.
We need to ensure that our government continues to make doctor recruitment a top priority because patients with good, long-term relationships with their family doctors suffer fewer health crises and enjoy better overall health.