Surge in doctor recruitment matched by retirements

A drive to bring new family physicians to Abbotsford attracts 14 doctors, but that's only enough to cover those who have ceased practising

Surge in doctor recruitment matched by retirements

A drive to bring more family physicians to Abbotsford has resulted in the recruitment of 14 doctors, but also demonstrated the challenge facing the primary health care system.

Over the past year, the Abbotsford Division of Family Practice has attempted to bolster the capacity of local doctors through the province’s A GP for Me program. With some 26,000 local residents not attached to a family doctor, part of that program involved recruiting new physicians and retaining existing ones.

Shirley Weir, with A GP for Me, said the last year has seen 10 new physicians start practising in Abbotsford, with four more expected to set up here within the next month. She said around 5,000 more people have been attached to a family physician.

The new doctors are especially necessary because the city has also lost 14 physicians the past year, with 13 retiring and one passing away. The majority of Abbotsford doctors are more than 50 years old and 20 per cent of physicians intend to retire within the next four years.

“There’s no quick fix to this problem,” Weir said. Still, the doctors who will be arriving over the next month will be taking new patients, and, once they are established, patients who want to connect to a new physician will be able to visit FindADoctorAbbotsford.ca for help.

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The A GP for Me program also found success in a couple other areas, Weir said. A pilot program that saw registered dietitians placed in family practices was a major success, she said. That initiative saw the dietitians placed at eight different practices for a year. The program’s success means that it will be expanded over the coming year, with patients at more practices gaining easier access to dietitians.

“It’s going forward because we’ve seen early success,” she said.

She said the dietitians have given some patients the ability to change their lives for the better and get off medication in some instances. In one case, she said, a 31-year-old recently diagnosed with diabetes was able to get to the point where he did not need to be taking medicine for his issue.

“This intervention has saved him from a lifetime of dealing with the system,” Weir said.

Similarly, the program has worked with practices to increase operating efficiencies and allow physicians to have more time to see patients. As part of that, the Division of Family Practice has partnered with the University of the Fraser Valley to create an Advanced Medical Office Assistant course that would allow such assistants to complete more office and clinical support tasks.