Incentive program attracting rural doctors

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NINE new doctors have been hired in rural B.C., thanks to an initiative announced this spring by the provincial government and the BC Medical Association.

“It is great news that nine physicians have been hired as a result of this incentive to better support the health of rural families,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “I have seen first-hand in Clearwater what a positive impact this program has had in supporting rural health care and increasing the resiliency of smaller communities.”

The Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive provides recruited doctors with a one-time payment of $100,000 when they commit to a three-year return of service in a designated rural community. A total of 17 communities are eligible for the funding and almost half of these communities now have at least one new doctor.

Communities benefiting from the new doctors are Terrace, Chetwynd, Bella Coola, Hazelton, Clearwater, Princeton, Nakusp and Port Hardy. The doctors come from various locations and are at different stages in their professional careers ranging from relatively new physicians to others that have been practicing for over a decade. Of the new physicians, eight are general practitioners and one is a specialist in anaesthesiology.

“Being a doctor in a rural community can be challenging, but it’s also extremely rewarding,” said BCMA President Dr. William Cunningham, a rural doctor who works in Duncan. “The new incentive encourages doctors to give rural practice a try. After three years in those communities, I am optimistic they will build roots and stay for the longer-term. This program is part of the BCMA’s commitment to help provide the highest standard of health care for our patients – when and where they need it.”

The incentive was developed by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, which is comprised of the provincial government and the BCMA. The committee develops programs that strengthen rural health care and encourage physicians to live and practise in rural and remote areas of the province.

“I would like to welcome the nine new physicians who are providing services to communities in rural B.C.,” said Donna Barnett, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for Rural Development. “I know first-hand the rewards of rural life and am confident the new physicians will enjoy the same benefits.”

The communities were selected by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, in collaboration with regional health authorities, based on a number of factors including the degree of difficulty the community has experienced in recruiting hard-to-fill physician positions.

“The financial incentive and guaranteed income made the transition and worry a lot easier, as it is a big jump. Our visit to the community really helped. Everyone was amazing to us,” said Dr. Steven Broadbent, who recently moved from the U.K. to Clearwater.

Participating physicians receive $50,000 when they begin working in the community. The remaining $50,000 is paid once they have completed one year of service. The full amount must be repaid if the three-year commitment is not fulfilled.

“I always knew I wanted to be a rural physician, but this incentive helped me to decide where I wanted to set up my practice. For many newer graduates, this program provides a huge psychological benefit because we’re able to pay off medical school debt more quickly,” said Dr. Colleen Black, who is working in Princeton.

B.C. has a comprehensive set of incentive programs to encourage doctors to set up and maintain practice in rural areas of the province. More information is available at: www.health.gov.bc.ca/pcb/rural_recruitment.html