Communities Can Play a Role in Physician Recruitment and Retention

Note:  This blog was originally posted by myself on the OMA website.  It’s presented here as for those of you who don’t go to the OMA site.

Earlier this month I was pleased to have an opportunity to speak to municipal leaders from across Ontario at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa.  I talked about how small and mid-size communities can play a significant role in attracting and retaining doctors.

Family doctors are the gateway to the rest of the health care system, and many communities don’t have enough of them (or specialists).  We’ve all heard about small towns losing one or two doctors in a short period and then scrambling to attract replacements. More doctors where we live means fewer sick days, stronger economic growth, and longer, healthier, happier lives.

What can municipalities do to attract and retain doctors? Start with making succession plans with your local doctors sooner rather than later. You can also encourage them to take on medical residents – ‘trainee doctors’ who need to work under the supervision of an experienced physician. If you give residents an opportunity to live in your community for their education, they just might stay.  This is what happened to me.  I spent two months of my training in small towns, and came to love the lifestyle and the style of practice.  Now I practice in Stayner, which has 4,200 people.

Small and mid-sized communities are some of the best places in the world to live. Community-minded purpose, cheaper real estate and rent, easy access to the great outdoors, and friendly and welcoming people is a big competitive advantage. Twenty-seven years of practice in Stayner, and I still feel the same way.

Once the trainees are in your community, make them feel at home. They’re looking for a community and a lifestyle, and not just a job. Work with local businesses to create a great welcome package, like a complimentary pass to the YMCA, local parks and attractions. Make sure they’re invited to community events. Anything to get this excellent talent feeling at home and feel like they are part of the community. You want them to envision putting down roots.

As the provincial government sets out to transform Ontario’s health-care system and implement Ontario Health Teams, strong local health care has never been more important.  The Ontario Medical Association has been working closely with the Ministry of Health to deliver the best health care possible to every resident in Ontario. To help support these changes, your community needs health care infrastructure. The top-of-mind definition of infrastructure – like sewers and roads – usually heads the list in the planning process. It’s equally important to ensure that health care infrastructure keeps up with future demand – and at limited cost to taxpayers.

Ontario’s Planning Act allows municipalities to require community benefits from developers where their projects exceed local zoning by-law densities. Traditionally, this funding is earmarked for projects like street improvements, playgrounds, daycare spaces, or affordable housing. These are all important, but as communities grow, appropriate commercial space will be needed to welcome and encourage new health care practitioners and facilities. This could be a physician’s clinic, or an office for the new Ontario Health Teams.

While health care is largely a provincial responsibility, the message I wanted to get across in Ottawa is that municipalities can and should play an important role in shaping their own health care future.

During my time at AMO it was interesting to hear about the innovative steps communities have taken to successfully attract and retain doctors. We would love to hear what strategies have worked in your community. Let us know via the OMA social channels.

Author: justanoldcountrydoctor

Practicing rural family medicine since 1992. I still have active privileges at the Collingwood Hospital. Currently President-Elect of the Ontario Medical Association.

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