When it comes to recruiting physicians to Barrie’s Royal Victoria Hospital Pam Gilchrist uses a common real estate phrase – location, location, location.
“Barrie sells itself,” said Gilchrist, RVH’s physician recruitment co-ordinator. “It is right on beautiful Kempenfelt Bay, on the doorstep to cottage country and only an hour north of Toronto. We have excellent recreational facilities in the city, a very collegial medical community, a lot of specialized backup and a state-of-the-art hospital.”
Sounds like a perfect place for a physician to set up practice, raise a family and enjoy life, but Gilchrist admits it’s a tough sell. Hospitals all over the country are experiencing a shortage of doctors, and pulling out all the stops to lure new physicians to their community.
“The recruitment process takes a long time. Physicians today have so many options,” she said.
“We take our time because we want what is best for them. We want it to be a good fit for them and a good fit for us.”
Barrie is experiencing a population explosion with 5,000 people moving in every year. This influx has left 25,000 to 30,000 people – one quarter of the population – without a family doctor. The pressure on the hospital from these orphan patients is incredible. Last year, RVH’s emergency department experienced 75,000 patient visits, making it one of the busiest ER’s in Ontario.
As a designated underserviced area, it is crucial that Gilchrist attract physicians to Barrie – but she is not doing it alone. Barrie’s medical community and city council are backing her efforts with finances and volunteer time. The budgeted cost of the recruitment program is close to $200,000 a year, with RVH, City of Barrie and surrounding townships each contributing $66,000.
Doctors interested in Barrie will have their travel and accommodation expenses paid. Armed with a slick information package, including an award-winning recruitment video, doctors visiting RVH will be given a guided tour by one of the hospital’s medical staff, meet physicians in the same field and get a good sense of how the hospital operates.
A group of doctors’ wives take turns providing visiting spouses with guided tours of the city, which include residential areas, schools, daycare centres, shopping, cultural and religious points of interest. Often visiting doctors will dine in the home of a fellow physician and have the opportunity to ask questions in a more social setting. Only three months into the position and already Gilchrist has given 12 doctors this red carpet treatment.
The one recruitment tactic the hospital refuses to use in the race to win doctors, is a cash incentive.
“We do not play the incentive game,” said Richard Kelly, director of human resources at RVH.
Kelly believes helping doctors and their wives to network on social, professional and financial levels in order to make the transition to Barrie smooth, is a much better incentive than cash.
“Those kinds of things are more conducive to a stable placement in this community than simply handing someone money.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be handed out, it just isn’t coming from the community. The Ministry of Health does offer incentives for doctors and new graduates who choose to work in an underserviced area.
Gilchrist has also set her sights on medical students who have not yet decided on where they will settle. She’s visited the medical schools in Ontario and soon will be headed to Quebec.
“It is important to establish a relationship with medical students and medical residents early on in their training so they can experience first-hand, our medical community, the hospital and the city itself.”
The hope is that when they are ready to commit to a community, their choice will be Barrie. Other avenues used in recruitment include websites, newspaper and Internet advertisements all preaching the benefits of practicing medicine in Barrie. Gilchrist expects to see the fruits of her labour in about six month’s time, which is good news to thousands of orphan patients and over-worked emergency department staff.