Watson Lake faces doctor shortage

Watson Lake has no resident full-time doctors. In response, Health Minister Doug Graham is creating a committee to look into recruiting physicians to the community southeast of Whitehorse.

Watson Lake has no resident full-time doctors.

In response, Health Minister Doug Graham is creating a committee to look into recruiting physicians to the community southeast of Whitehorse.

For the last year, Watson Lake has used 15 locum – or temporary – doctors to meet the needs of the community.

“It’s a huge concern for us because we believe at any time the best solution is to have resident doctors,” Graham said in an interview. “Especially when we have a medical facility like we do in Watson Lake that needs to be staffed 24 hours a day. It’s a huge problem.”

Two local doctors, Dr. Said Secerbegovic and his daughter Dr. Tanis Secerbegovic, who both worked out of the Parhellion Clinic, were until recently serving the community full-time.

Watson Lake also has a recently completed hospital with its own clinic and 24-hour emergency services.

After working in the community for decades, the elder Secerbegovic placed himself on the locum list and is now working part time. His current contract runs out at the end of the year.

Dr. Tanis Secerbegovic recently gave birth and also put herself on the locum list.

That means no full-time doctors are living in the community.

The News could not reach either of the doctors in time for today’s story.

Watson Lake Mayor Richard Durocher laid out his community’s concerns in a letter to the health minister earlier this month and called for such a committee to be formed. He wrote that the community has “been advised that Dr. Tanis Secerbegovic will not be returning after maternity leave if there is not another resident physician working in the community.

“This will leave Watson Lake with no resident doctors. Furthermore, it also leaves in question the future of clinical services for the community.”

In an interview with the News this week, Durocher said not having a consistent doctor has been difficult for residents.

“It’s making the community really nervous that you have a locum come in, handle your file and then you never see them again,” he said.

The mayor described what it is like at the clinic when the elder Dr. Secerbegovic is working.

“If you went to Parhellion on a day that Said’s in town, it’s wall-to-wall in there. My understanding is that on a lot of nights he works until 10 at night just to catch up on the case-load.”

Durocher said he doesn’t want to criticize the quality of doctors coming to Watson Lake.

“Medical is medical, but there’s also knowing the person and the community as well, root causes of why maybe certain things are the way they are. (Secerbegovic) has a beautiful understanding of that because after 40 years here he knows everybody.”

The committee will include representation from community members, the town, the Yukon Medical Association and the health department, said Graham.

The government’s recruitment officer, who is in charge of attracting doctors to the territory, is responsible for promoting the territory overall and not to fill specific vacancies in privately-owned clinics, Graham said.

“What we’re attempting to do is recruit doctors to the territory, to recruit doctors to Watson Lake, but not to a specific clinic.”

Graham said the hospital needs at least three resident doctors, “because that hospital needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week coverage, and you simply can’t do that with two people. It would be extremely difficult.”

Graham said the committee should be up and running in “a very short period of time, I hope.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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