More foreign physicians, please

The Beacon

There’s a common belief held in these parts that one solution to the family physician shortage in Gander – or any physician shortage, for that matter – is to train more people from rural Newfoundland to become doctors, and focus less on bringing in foreign-trained physicians.

The belief is that if you train more people from Newfoundland and Labrador, they are more likely to stay.

Talk about an asinine and ridiculous statement.

Central Newfoundland is on the verge of a healthcare crisis, and if you don’t believe it, look at the nurses, obstetricians, surgeons, family doctors and emergency rooms.

First, there’s a shortage of nurses throughout all of the province, a situation so grim that Central Health is currently alternating obstetrics services between Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, which is no ideal answer to solve any problem, just to be able to give nurses, most of them overworked, some vacation time this summer.

Second, there’s a shortage of family physicians in Gander, too, so dire that last year people began lining up outside the Gander Medical Clinic hours before it opened just to have a chance to become a patient of the new doctor the clinic announced was coming onboard.

This year, the clinic allowed people to submit their names and phone numbers over eight days and planned to draw names from the names they received, and thousands signed up within the first few days.

Even with three new doctors, there are still people without a family physician

Third, there’s a shortage of obstetricians – departures of obstetricians in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor mean one is left in each community to be on call year-round, with the exception of this summer.

Fourth, a surgeon in Grand Falls-Windsor resigned earlier this month due to a shortage of surgeons there, resulting in too heavy a workload and responsibility left for remaining staff.

Finally, many of the thousands of people in Gander and the surrounding communities without family physicians have little choice but to rely on the emergency room at the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre for basic medical treatment – so many, in fact, that people end up waiting hours for basic services because staff are trying to manage heavy workloads and long lists of patients.

If that doesn’t sound like a healthcare system on the verge of collapsing in on itself, what is? It can’t get much more worse than that.

So who are we to say we’d prefer to recruit doctors from Newfoundland to come to Gander, rather than elsewhere in the world, when there are obviously many more needed.

Granted, the reasons for focusing on Newfoundland-born doctors are valid. A physician who grew up in this area may be more inclined to stay and settle down here to be close to family.

But not all doctors like to stay in one pace.

With all of its faults, central Newfoundland is not a bad place to live or raise a family, and if you’re a doctor raising your children in a war-torn country or a part of the world where crime rates are sky high, central Newfoundland is a much lovelier place to be, compared to what some doctors may be familiar with.

On top of that, there’s no guarantee doctors born and bred in Newfoundland will stay here, even if Gander is their hometown. The lure of more money in other parts of the world, a less stressful job, and the opportunity to spend more quality time with family can easily break the family ties that bind.

In the end, beggars can’t be choosers, and with a shortage of nurses and physicians in central Newfoundland pushing this region closer and closer to falling into a crisis, we don’t have the luxury to be choosers.

In other words, get the doctors wherever you can get them. Failing to do so only borders on stupidity.

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