Local Physician recruitment program ‘County Docs’ commences

County Docs

The County of Prince Edward, the Prince Edward Family Health Organization (PEFHO), the Prince Edward Family Health Team (PEFHT), the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation (PECMHF) and Quinte Health announced Tuesday the formation of the County Docs Physician Retention and Recruitment program which will be pivotal to addressing the shortages of physicians in Prince Edward County.

County Docs, led by recruiter Adam Hambly, has started to actively recruit physicians to practice in Prince Edward County. Shortages of physicians, a decline in enrolment in family medicine and the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have all led to a critical shortage of family physicians not only in Prince Edward County, but across our country.

There are currently five physician vacancies in Prince Edward County with three more expected in 2023. Demand for physicians is great due to a shortage of doctors resulting from retirements as well as rising patient needs. The County is also experiencing an increase in residents relocating permanently. This in turn, leaves those new residents without a family doctor. Not having adequate primary care providers puts a significant demand on the emergency services at the local hospital creating another health care issue.

Adam Hambly. (Sumitted Photo)

Competition for recruiting family physicians is extreme between communities and has brought our local organizations together to strategize what can be offered to keep Prince Edward County a premier place for new physicians to want to live and practice medicine. Lack of competitive financial incentives, the expensive cost of housing for locums and medical learners and lack of office space are arising as prominent areas requiring investment if Prince Edward County is going to be competitive.

In the past, there were few challenges in finding new physicians to take over practices from those leaving or retiring. However, given a perfect storm of fewer medical graduates in family medicine, an aging physician workforce and a growing and aging population, this is no longer the case,” said Dr. Anne Nancekievill, a local family physician recruitment champion. “Our family doctors are integral to our community. Not only do they take care of patients in their offices; they support our local hospital by taking care of admitted patients, as well as covering shifts in our Emergency Department, acting as medical directors and covering physicians for our four Long Term Care facilities and providing palliative care both at home and in our local hospice. Our family physicians also provide guidance and support for both our Family Health Team and local hospital programs. We currently have 18 family doctors serving a population of over 25,000 people. It is not enough.”

Hambly was hired to address the recruitment crisis in mid-July. He has achieved early successes including the creation of a new recruitment and retention strategy that is based on reducing barriers for prospective physicians. Hambly is actively recruiting and creating the program elements that other jurisdictions have had for a longer time, boasting maturity and longer prominence in the public domain. Showcasing Prince Edward County is a key component. A dedicated website for County Docs is in development and is expected to launch in February. Other highlights achieved to date include:

• Securing one locum for a one-year contract, with possibility of permanency – Locums temporarily assist with vacation coverage. In this case, securing this locum has helped stabilize a practice where the existing physician has retired and with the locum’s commitment, orphaning patients was avoided

• Launch of a Doctor Accommodation Network (DAN) to support housing for locums and new physicians. This is critical as locums can provide much needed breaks from practice and viewed as an important factor to prevent family physician burnout

• Speaking to more than 25 potential recruits, conducting 11 introductory calls, with four full-site visits completed. A recruitment pipeline takes a long time to build but this activity is a strong beginning

With the support of incentive funding by The County, one barrier has been removed, for now. However, we are seeing competition in financial incentives continue to escalate. We have to think about a whole package of offerings for new physicians. Our goal is to not only make Prince Edward County a top choice for new physician recruits but also a place where physicians want to stay. Retention of our current and future physicians is as equally important as recruiting them here,” said Hambly.

PECMHF Chair Barbara McConnell. (Submitted Photo)

Many community members have asked how they can help support the Physician Recruitment and Retention efforts. The Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation has partnered with County Docs to invest in the future of healthcare delivery in PEC by launching a new Physician Recruitment and Retention Fund. The Physician Recruitment and Retention Fund will give people in the community an opportunity to contribute to the initiatives underway that will attract and retain new physicians to our area.

The Foundation welcomes the opportunity to partner with The County, the Family Health Team, the family physicians, Quinte Health, and Adam Hambly to help advance physician recruitment to new prospective doctors, and retention opportunities for those already practicing,” said Barbara McConnell, chairperson of the Foundation. “Through collaboration and giving interested donors a way to contribute, the support we will generate will not only connect patients to doctors, but also result in our hospital continuing to offer procedures and treatment options that are unique to a smaller community.”

To make a donation to support The Foundation’s Physician Recruitment and Retention Fund, contact Shannon Coull at 613-476-1008 ext 4503, email info@pecmhf.ca, or visit pecmhf.ca and select ‘donate’.Also, cheques may be mailed to PECMH Foundation at 403 Main Street, Picton, ON K0K 2T0. Donors who give to this fund will not receive preferential treatment in securing a family physician. Donors will help strengthen the future delivery of healthcare across our region.

More on County Docs’ strategy will be shared with the community in February, when an official program launch is expected. In the meantime, the public is invited to visit our landing page, www.countydocs.ca for more information.

Even at these early stages of formal program development, we want to acknowledge the community for their support. We know having a family physician is at the top of everyone’s mind and we are working hard to stabilize our healthcare delivery,” said Hambly.

Medical students or family physicians interested in learning more information can contact Adam Hambly at info@countydocs.ca

Those seeking a family physician should contact Health Care Connect at 1-800-869-8828 or go tohealth.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/pro/

-Staff