The brain-drain trend of Canada’s doctors fleeing to the United States appears to be reversing, according to the Canadian Medical Association.
“This year, for only the second time in about two decades, the net flow of physicians across the Canada-US border is coming towards Canada,” association president Colin McMillan said in an address Friday.
“The numbers are not great or impressive, but they are positive,” McMillan told the Yukon Medical Association at the group’s annual general meeting.
“We’re not sure why that is, and we’re going to try and find out why.
“We think maybe a lot of our colleagues who left us 10 or 15 years ago have now mature practices, they probably have paid off their debt load.
“Some of them may be frustrated with the medical-legal-bureaucratic challenges in the United States, or the (Health Maintenance Organizations).
“Or some of them may just want to come back, for reasons of family or medicare or whatever.”
Expatriate physicians returning to Canada aren’t trickling to the Yukon, yet.
But five new doctors have set up shop in Whitehorse during the past year, said Yukon Medical Association president Rao Tadepalli.
“Like anything, there is no magic pill,” Tadepalli said Wednesday.
“Right now, the department of Health says that the number of calls that have come from patients has decreased significantly.
“Their phones are not ringing that much at all.”
The most recent addition to the Yukon’s roster of about 70 physicians is Huey Chau, a general practitioner and trained emergency room doctor from Vancouver who is working to set up a new practice at the Klondyke Medical Clinic in Whitehorse in the new year, said Tadepalli.
A husband-and-wife team of doctors from Germany — Gunnar Trischmann and Anke Rhein — arrived in Whitehorse earlier this year and set up shop at the Klondyke clinic and the Whitehorse General Hospital, said Tadepalli.
About six months ago, Bijan Jihangiri started working at the cardiac stress testing laboratory at the hospital, said Tadepalli.
And about a year ago, Naresh Patel opened a walk-in clinic out of Horwood’s Mall, said Tadepalli.
Chau was the only one of the five new recruits to be eligible for the Yukon government’s family physician incentive program for recent medical school graduates, established earlier this year.
The program offers recent graduates $50,000 over five years to help them repay student debt while they establish a practice in the Yukon.
“Under this program we provide financial assistance to Canadian citizens who recently graduated medical school in exchange for five years of service in the Yukon,” Health Minister Brad Cathers said at the association meeting.
“The first physician to be approved under that program is Dr. Huey Chau, who will be opening a new practice here and seeing patients in late January.”
The government’s other recruitment program — $10,000 in annual bursaries for medical students from the Yukon — is currently supporting five students, one of whom is completing a residency, he said.
“As far as the doc numbers are concerned it’s looking good right now,” said Tadepalli.
“There are a couple of old docs who are going to retire… but there are other new docs that have come.
“The situation is stable.”
But the health-care needs of Yukoners go beyond physician-recruitment programs.
There is a high rate of turnover among nurses in Yukon’s communities, and the territory needs nurses for intensive care and operating rooms, said Tadepalli.
About 50 per cent of the Whitehorse hospital’s time is spent tending to long-term patients, he said.
The Thomson Centre is expected to offer 44 continuing care beds when it opens in early 2007.
But the Health department has no plans to build a mental health ward.
Currently there’s only one padded room at the Whitehorse hospital for emotionally unstable patients, said Tadepalli.
“The hospital has come up with about 20 names of high-dependency people in the past.
“They could be addressed by setting up a group home of some kind, with supervised care, because you are talking about those guys turning up at the hospital every day, almost.”