Doctors shutter their clinics

Several foreign doctors are closing their practices. It's not clear why. But the Yukon doesn't need doctors, according to Health and Social Services.

Several foreign doctors are closing their practices.

It’s not clear why.

But the Yukon doesn’t need doctors, according to Health and Social Services.

There hasn’t been a need for more docs for at least a year, said spokesperson Patricia Living.

And, last March, the department ended its special license program.

It was set up to lure foreign doctors north by giving them a temporary license to practice in Yukon for up to five years.

There is no reason to believe the program will be resurrected, said Pat Living.

“When this first came into play we were dealing with a physician shortage and we had a large number of what is referred to as orphan patients who couldn’t find a family doctor,” she said.

“And the number of docs we were talking about at that time was in the low 50s. What we have now is 69 working physicians in the territory. So the number has increased significantly and we, as the department of Health, are not receiving the calls we were when the special license first went in. We’re certainly not getting the calls from people saying, ‘I can’t find a doc, you have to help me.’ We’re not getting those.

“So either individuals are able to find a physician themselves, or don’t need a physician or are using the walk-in clinics.”

So, by summer, at least five doctors will be gone.

The exodus is entirely of foreign doctors, and almost exclusively doctors who work at walk-in clinics.

The River Valley Medical Clinic on Lambert Street has been hit the worst.

The clinic runs seven days a week, offering a rotating walk-in option between all their doctors, every day.

In the next couple of months, the number of doctors at River Valley will drop to one, from five.

And doctors leaving three other Whitehorse clinics have transferred their patient load to those at River Valley. Each time another doctor leaves, the patients flow to the doctors who remain.

River Valley’s Dr. Isis Guiris has already left, leaving her patients to Dr. Ayman Gerges.

But this is Gerges’ last week. A sign on the clinic door informs patients Dr. Shahid Syed will be taking over.

No one will say how long Syed will be seeing patients in Whitehorse.

None of the doctors at River Valley were willing to talk.

A few weeks ago, one foreign doctor operating at another clinic was willing to discuss the permit issue with the News. But, pressured by her colleagues, she cancelled the interview.

And several patients have approached the paper, frustrated about losing yet another doctor. Many have been through three or four doctors over the past three or four years.

While all came forward separately, without knowing of each other, they all backed off after being asked by their doctors not to discuss the issue.

The special license program came into force in 2001.

The territory’s Medical Profession Act states special licenses are valid for no more than five years.

Nothing says these doctors have to leave the territory after five years. The only stipulation is that they go south to successfully complete a two-day exam with the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

However, few doctors that have been issued the special licenses have stayed to practice in the territory, said Fiona Charbonneau, registrar of medical professionals.

Whether doctors have taken the test, passed it, or not, the program has brought several doctors into Canada, through the Yukon. But they haven’t kept practicing in the territory.

Many underserviced regions across Canada offer programs like this, said Paul Rainsberry with the national college that offers the exam.

Health and Social Services is trying to attract doctors to come and stay in the territory in other ways, said Living.

A partnership with the University of Calgary encourages doctors to complete their residency in the Yukon. The territory also continues to reserve a seat at Memorial University for one Yukon student and the medical education bursary program has already supported nine or 10 Yukon students, she said.

“We can’t tell doctors they can’t leave,” said Living. “They operate as private, individual business people. If they decide that they’re going, they can go. We can’t force them to stay here. But we also know there are new docs coming. So the numbers are balancing out.

“I can’t say, with 100 per cent surety, that all of those people found family physicians. All I can say is I can’t remember the last time I heard that we received a call of someone who can’t find a physician.”

Living doesn’t know when or how many doctors will be coming up, but the department has been told doctors are recruiting additional physicians to join their private practices.

It’s not clear what will happen at River Valley.

One staffer explained the clinic has tried to meet the needs of patients. But that is getting harder and harder to do as more and more doctors leave.

They couldn’t say why doctors were leaving or what would happen to the patients.

“It’s very sad,” they said, before rushing back inside.

They were worried they might be seen talking to a reporter.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com