The great doctor hunt

Few would envy Karla Scott's position. As the Yukon's physician recruitment and retention officer, she is on the front lines of a doctor shortage that has been brewing for years.

Few would envy Karla Scott’s position.

As the Yukon’s physician recruitment and retention officer, she is on the front lines of a doctor shortage that has been brewing for years.

But it wasn’t until November 2012 that the government first announced resources targeted to doctor recruitment. Scott took on the full-time position in January.

“This is the first time that Yukon has had dedicated resources to physician recruitment and retention, so this is completely new for government,” said Scott.

In many ways she is starting from scratch. Still, the government can’t even say how many doctors we need to recruit to meet current demand.

“We can’t just say, ‘OK well we need to recruit physicians,’ without fully understanding what the needs are,” Scott said.

“There is a perceived need out there, and that is what government thus far has been responding to.”

Health and Social Services has launched a doctorless-patient online registry where Yukoners can sign up to announce that they are without a family physician.

Data from that project has yet to be released.

“We’re in the process of doing an analysis right now to determine the actual need. There’s a perceived need, that everybody says, ‘I don’t have a family doctor and we need all of this.’ Well, we’re doing an analysis right now to see what currently exists and what the needs are in the future.”

But Scott is not in charge of figuring out how many doctors we need. Her job is to make Yukon look attractive to Outside physicians.

The competition is intense. The doctor shortage is not just a Yukon issue, or a Canadian issue, said Scott. It’s worldwide.

Scott attended an April conference of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada in Victoria, B.C.

“When we were in Victoria there were physician recruiters from New Zealand and Australia,” she said. “So if those folks are coming to Canada looking for physicians – that’s halfway on the other side of the world. It was quite shocking to see them there, but they do it all the time.”

The Yukon’s primary competitors for attracting physicians are Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, rural B.C. and rural Alberta, said Scott.

B.C. recently announced a $100,000 incentive for doctors who could commit to practising for three years in certain communities.

Full-time physicians in the Yukon who agree to stay in the territory for three years can receive up to $9,000 after the completion of each of their first and second years, and $36,000 upon completion of their third year, according to the doctor recruitment website, www.yukonmd.ca.

Many other benefit programs are available to physicians looking to work in the territory, even on a short-term basis, and they are administered through the Yukon Medical Association.

Getting young doctors to visit on a short-term, or locum, placement, is the best way to recruit new doctors to the territory, said Scott.

“That’s what we’re kind of banking on, that if we can get these physicians to visit the Yukon, to see the type of medicine that they can practise and the communities that they can live in, how can you not fall in love with the Yukon?”

Of the 800 delegates at the Victoria conference, 35 expressed an interest in a locum in the Yukon, said Scott.

They ranged from people who had a general idea of the Yukon to those who had thought it was part of Alaska, she said.

“The conference that we attended in Victoria, our first go-around, was so well received. It was extremely encouraging.”

Scott is very hopeful that her work, in collaboration with the Yukon Medical Association, will bring new doctors to the Yukon.

In November, she will travel to the Family Medicine Forum in Vancouver.

Compared to the 800 delegates in Victoria, this conference is expected to have 4,500 family physicians from across Canada, said Scott.

Two days of the forum will focus on rural physician education.

Dr. Robert Zimmerman will go to the conference as well. Zimmerman is a recently retired Yukon physician, who was recently appointed as chair of the Yukon Medical Council.

The council is responsible for licensing physicians in the territory and dealing with patient complaints.

“I’m really looking forward to it in November because not only will we have a physician travelling with us, we’ve got the chair of the Yukon Medical Council travelling with us,” said Scott. “So that’s very exciting.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com