ANTIGONISH: Who knows better how to attract doctors to a community than local physicians and community members? That’s the approach doctors at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish are taking to remedy their physician recruitment and retention challenge.

“In this tumultuous health care environment in Nova Scotia, as a physician group, we felt that it was necessary to organize ourselves and come together with our community to ensure a healthy physician workforce at St. Martha’s hospital,” Dr. Jane Anne Howard, current medical staff president, told The Reporter. “We know that we need more physicians than we have but we are trying to focus on things we can control which is physician and community partnerships to strengthen physician recruitment and retention.”

Even though the physicians at St. Martha’s are dealing with what that tumultuous health care environment, they are continually committed to forward thinking and positive action. As a result, a committee of physicians has met and developed a strategic plan to understand and address barriers and ensure healthy physician resources for St. Martha’s and the communities they serve.

“This initiative began this spring with a workshop involving the majority of medical staff coming together to try and define some of the challenges and barriers but also to brainstorm some local solutions to facilitate physician recruitment and retention,” Howard said. “This was then used as the basis for a task oriented strategic plan. We then invited the community to engage in our plan as partners towards a common goal.”

This is a local initiative aiming to work alongside and strengthen existing provincial recruitment efforts. The group of physicians and community members have divided themselves into three main focus areas and are now meeting regularly, about every two weeks.

Current Emergency Services Lead, Dr. Tania Sullivan, said working together with their community, they can showcase St. Martha’s Regional Hospital and Antigonish town and county as a wonderful place to live and practice medicine.

“We can develop an ongoing network of personal and professional support for new physician recruits and their families making it easy to come and stay at St. Martha’s,” she said. “Antigonish is a small town with city amenities and unique cultural diversity. There is fantastic local outdoor and recreational development. There are extensive community-led sports, arts and theatre opportunities. The local commitment to quality education is second to none. I have been privileged to practice medicine and raise my five children here for the past 14 years.”

As a physician group, they play a key role in physician retention and recruitment as they are the new physicians’ colleagues. By creating a more organized plan, they as physicians will be able to support and advocate for each other more effectively.

“Recruiting physicians to Nova Scotia and improving access to primary health care is a top priority. We can’t do this work alone, and we know that communities are most successful when we collaborate to show physicians the best of opportunities across the province,” Dr. Nicole Boutilier said, co-interim vice president of medicine at Nova Scotia Health Authority. “St. Martha’s offers a great culture and workplace, and Antigonish has a lot to offer as a community – we commend this group for organizing these efforts.”

The group’s goal is to have a healthy and sustainable physician workforce at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, for now and into the future, so they can provide the quality care the communities they serve need and deserve.

“A large part of the initial physician workshop was information gathering. We really wanted to “till the soil” so to speak, to unearth some of the barriers to recruitment and retention, including tangible solutions to issues like physician health and workload,” Sullivan said. “Our goal is to compliment provincial efforts on a local level, focusing on areas that highlight our local successes like physician and family support, community integration and forging quality working relationships.”

Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher and Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron, who have both been involved with doctor recruitment efforts, echoed they were excited to be part of the united effort.

“Our council will do whatever we can to showcase what Antigonish town and county has to offer incoming physicians,” McCarron said. “Recruiting and retaining physicians to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital is critically important and I am pleased to see the local physicians stepping up to lead this initiative.”

The group will showcase their hospital and community at the “Hope and Dreams” event planned for September 2019. This promises to be wonderful joining of hands, hearts and minds in a fun and food-filled celebration of their commitment to quality health care for their community.