New program aims to hike rural doctor numbers

VICTORIA — Fourteen new family doctors will begin practising in rural and remote communities in British Columbia this month as part of a pilot program to place international medical graduates in communities struggling to recruit primary care providers.

“It has always been a difficult challenge to recruit physicians to the North,” says Dr. Ronald Chapman, vice-president of Medicine for the Northern Health Authority where seven of the new doctors will be placed in six different communities.

“Rural areas have been dependent on international medical graduates to recruit when Canadian recruitment falls short of what we need,” he said.

The 14 doctors represent the first group to participate in the Practice Ready Assessment pilot program.

In the program, doctors undergo an assessment process, spending three months with a B.C. physician who evaluates their skills as they care for patients. Physicians successfully completing the program commit to practice for at least three years in a designated rural community in need.

This $2.8 million program is funded by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, a committee of the Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C. It is part of the province’s strategy to strengthen access to family doctors and other primary care providers.

Dr. Alan Ruddiman, the committee’s co-chair, said internationally trained physicians continue to enhance and complement the physician workforce in the province.

“In many of B.C.’s rural communities, these physicians are the backbone of primary care and hospital services, and we value their skills and expertise, he said.

For the incoming physicians, rural communities offer a different experience from larger urban centres.

“Rural communities generally offer a far better place in terms of a sense of community,” said Chapman, a public health specialist who came to Canadian health care as an international medical graduate.

This fall, a second group of 16 physicians will go through the program. Another 30 internationally trained physicians will be assessed in 2016 based on funding and program evaluation.

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