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International graduates targeted to fill Lethbridge physician voids

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Lethbridge is targeting international graduates to help fill a need for family physicians in the city. 

A partnership between the Chinook Primary Care Network (PCN), Alberta Health Services (AHS) is looking to market the city as a place physicians will want to settle.

Dr. Michael Auld, associate zone medical director at Chinook regional hospital presented an update to the city’s cultural and social planning committee on April 27, where he said there are 11 recruits who are expected to begin working this year, with the earliest start date being in the Fall.

“Our clinics just weren’t getting interested applicants from Canadian graduates. We love to bring them on. I think there have been one or two that came on and that has been fantastic but that is not going to fill a gap of 20-30 physicians so we have opened up positions to sponsorship,” Auld said.

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The committee recommend city council allocate $15,000 from contingencies to the campaign.

“What I think is really good about the partnership that we formed is that if any one of those groups might be challenged to say we own this problem, I think that together as partners we are happy to own the problem together and own some of the solutions,” Auld said.

Auld said the problem is deeper than the number of doctors practicing in the city. “Even when we were up to our numbers of doctors, there were still a lot of unmet needs and there were approximately 24,000 unattached patients in the Chinook PCN area a couple of years ago,” he said. 

Unattached patients are those who have no “home” clinic and must rely on services such as emergency rooms to get healthcare. Auld said Lethbridge has a hard time meeting demand for pain management, chronic pain and child mental health. Part of the recruiting campaign is a mentor program, which he said will help physicians focus on their areas of interest, and hopefully help fill these gaps.

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One aspect of recruiting the partnership focuses on is giving reasons for temporary physicians to stay and set up permanently.  

“If we are out there offering jobs to Canadian graduates, there might be a significant percentage of them that we have learned through some of our initial contact through our recruiters – who actually don’t want a job. They want to locum and find a place where they want to live,” Auld said. He explained locum means a doctor who takes temporary contracts, often to experience new communities and find a place to settle.

The group is looking at an academic clinic in the city that would be dedicated to teaching family medicine residents, which Auld said, “would increase our capacity and also give those residents exposure to the community, again, making it more likely that they will want to stay here and take up practice here.”

The reason for the Fall start date is two three month assessment periods, Auld said. “They have to undergo two assessments, the first of which needs to be somewhere other than Lethbridge – it gets arranged by the college of physicians. The second they can actually be here working and they are being supervised by a physician here in Lethbridge.”

He added bottlenecks in recruiting add to the challenge of getting doctors to fill needs quickly.

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