About 10 to 15 per cent of Yukoners – 3,000 to 5,000 people – don’t have a family doctor, says Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association.
That figure is just an estimate, for lack of any hard numbers.
“I know that quite a few doctors are coming to town but also there are some doctors that are leaving or retiring that are not being replaced,” he said.
No one really knows how many “orphaned patients” there are in the territory. Late last year the Yukon government created a website to help it get a handle on the numbers.
So far they’ve had 500 people register online, said Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services.
The department has been working through its home care branch, the outreach clinic, Yukon hospital and a number of non-profit groups to get the survey out, she said.
“Right now it’s just to get a sense of numbers,” said Living. It’s an important part of the physician recruitment strategy that the department has been working on since the fall.
It’s a move that’s long overdue, said Tadepalli.
“They haven’t been aggressive enough in terms of physician recruitment,” he said.
Yukoners suffering from serious ailments get the care they need and there are a number of clinics that offer care, but the emergency room often ends up picking up the slack, said Tadepalli.
“It’s deeply concerning for most doctors to say to a patient, ‘Go to the emergency room,’ because emergency rooms should be there for emergencies,” he said.
Tadepalli said he is curious to see what the government has planned to fix the doctor shortage, but Living couldn’t say exactly when it would be kicking off the new recruitment strategy.
“There’s a lot of work that’s going on behind the scenes right now,” she said.
Late last year, with two foreign-trained doctors poised to lose their medical licenses, the government stepped in and extended the time they had to complete their certification.
Now the territory’s provisional licenses for internationally trained medical graduates last seven years, up from five.
The government also reopened the territory to foreign-trained physicians after a two-year hiatus.
It’s already received more than 100 unsolicited resumes from international medical graduates interested in coming to the Yukon, said Living.
The government is also reviewing the criteria it uses to evaluate those doctors. And it has hired someone to improve the territory’s recruitment and retention strategy. This consultant is currently comparing how other Canadian jurisdictions attract and retain physicians to see how the Yukon stacks up.
The territory offers medical student loan reimbursements, grants for office renovations and continuing education, medical practice insurance and moving expenses, and more – but it’s not the only one doing things like that.
“Ultimately we’re all competing for the same pot, so how can we do it in a way that’s fair and equitable?” asked Living. “What can we offer that maybe northern Saskatchewan or northern Alberta can’t?
Contact Josh Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org