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Toronto recruiting effort bringing new doctors to Summerside

Dr. David Bannon, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I.
Dr. David Bannon, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I. - Alison Jenkins

A 2018 trip by local officials to Toronto to attract doctors to Summerside has proven useful.  

Two new physicians have set up in Summerside in the last year, confirmed Health P.E.I., with another two coming in 2020.

“We’ve had positive outcomes with our recruitment efforts in collaboration with Health P.E.I. and the Prince County Hospital group. It’s been a great experience,” said Mike Thususka, economic development director for the City of Summerside.

“Recruitment in Canada is pretty competitive, so we collaborated with Health P.E.I. and the local physician group in Summerside as a way to show our support for their efforts.”

“It certainly would be a feather in our hat to say we have a sufficient number of doctors and health care.” - Coun. Greg Campbell

City staff, along with two Summerside doctors, attended the Family Medicine Forum in Toronto in November 2018.

News of the trip and its expense caused some debate in council chambers at that time. 

While physician recruitment is important, Coun. Greg Campbell said the city has enough files to spend money on without duplicating work being done by the provincial government.

However, he added it’s hard to disagree with trying to attract doctors to the region, especially from an economic development point of view.

“It certainly would be a feather in our hat to say we have a sufficient number of doctors and health care.”

Health P.E.I. says it recruited a total of 20 doctors to the Island in 2019.

More than 4,000 Islanders were waiting for a family doctor in Prince County as of Dec. 30, 2019, according to the province’s website. Islandwide, that number is nearing 16,000. 

Summerside surgeon Dr. David Bannon agreed there is a doctor shortage.

“Recognizing the changes and adapting is part of recruitment. "- Dr. David Bannon

President of the Medical Society of P.E.I., Bannon said he is pleased with government’s efforts to collaborate with the society, which represents the Island’s physicians.  

“The medical society has been very encouraged that the government has recognized recruiting and retention as a key issue that deserves a lot of attention,” said Bannon. “We’ve been very encouraged by what government has been doing - working with physicians to find what’s the best way to use the physicians that are here as a tool for recruiting, consistent with the principle of physicians recruiting physicians.”

The city’s 2018 trip to Toronto appears to be one such collaboration. 

When Thususka meets with entrepreneurs looking at Summerside, he is often asked about medical care in the community.

“We thought it was incumbent upon us to pitch in where we could help and sell the community (to doctors),” he said.

It was the city’s first foray into physician recruitment, and Thususka said getting to meet with doctors and learn about the process was very educational.

He has shown a few doctors around the area in recent months and said their questions are similar to other entrepreneurs looking to set up in town - housing, employment opportunities for spouses, education for children as well as recreation and cultural opportunities in the area.

To further the effort to attract doctors to the region, Summerside’s economic development committee drafted a resolution to collaborate with the province in recruiting efforts. It was passed at the September 2019 meeting. 

The resolution committed to play a role in physician recruitment, to increase family physician residency positions and to support a medical faculty at UPEI.

“We welcome and encourage communities to be involved in recruitment,” said a statement from Health P.E.I. and added Tignish is another community that has been working closely with the department to find a physician for their health centre. 

Bannon said doctor shortages are widespread and are not simply a matter of not enough doctors. 

Physician culture is changing, said Bannon. 

“Recognizing the changes and adapting is part of recruitment.

“The challenge is to recognize what the barriers are, and what are the challenges internally to creating a better system. At this time, we’re very encouraged that the government is investing effort in addressing this issue because it’s something that’s going to be critical for us to solve together.” 

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