Royal Victoria Hospital’s soft-sell approach is a winner


No incentives. No gimmicks. No pressure. That’s Pamela Colquhoun’s approach to recruiting physicians to Barrie and surrounding area. And it’s working. Since Colquhoun joined the Community Task Force for Physician Recruitment as the co-ordinator, a little more than three years ago, she has been instrumental in attracting more than 65 physicians in a variety of specialties to the area.

What is her secret to success? “We have a no pressure approach to recruitment. We want to make sure we have the right fit for us and for the physician and their family. That is why we tell them to visit other sites after they come here,” said Colquhoun.

Colquhoun will admit the carrot she does dangle in front of prospective physicians is simply the fact that Barrie has a state-of-the-art hospital, collegial medical staff and a community that has much to offer in the way of cultural and recreational amenities. For many, Colquhoun says, it is the right fit, both for family life and career goals.

Fit is important when it comes to recruitment, but so too is flexibility. “We are finding that the difficulty is mostly recruiting family physicians because many are not practicing full-time comprehensive family medicine,” said Colquhoun. “We recognize this new trend and welcome family physicians to come to this area in any capacity and we will accommodate them.”

Colquhoun is seeing more family physicians opting to have variety in their practice. This includes after-hours clinics, hospitalist work, job sharing and emergency department work.

“We don’t use gimmicks, or big money incentives. We make use of our strengths, the citizens and doctors and hospital leaders of our community to showcase this place in every way possible, in every venue possible,” said Dr. Rob Ballagh, Chairman of the Community Task Force for Physician Recruitment. “We live in a fabulous area full of resorts and activities. A show at the Royal Alexandra theatre is an hour and a bit away. I can ski ten minutes away from my house.Ê And the delights of Muskoka are less than an hour’s drive north.”

City of Barrie Alderman Patrick Brown is also a member of the task force and recently accompanied Colquhoun on a tour of medical schools in Ontario. “Physician recruitment is one of the biggest issues facing Barrie, particularly the shortage of family doctors. Barrie is provincially designated as an under serviced area and a community cannot flourish without the safety net of a strong and vibrant health-care network,” said Brown.

The local governments in Barrie and area are indeed stepping up to the plate. Funding for task force initiatives is enthusiastically supported by the City of Barrie, the Town of Innisfil and the Townships of Oro-Medonte and Springwater.

“We are miles ahead of the cities that surround us. And we need to be, because Barrie has been the fastest growing city of its size in Canada in six of the last 10 years. We are growing at a bad time, with thousands of people moving here at a time of a major physician shortage,” said Dr. Ballagh.

And there is no denying that the need for physicians in Barrie and surrounding area is great. More than 30,000 people in Barrie and surrounding townships are without a primary care physician.

So what do we do?Ê “Well, our Task Force gets to work on this issue,” said Ballagh. “It consists of physician leaders, local and provincial politicians, service groups, business leaders and interested citizens. We have gone to great efforts to train medical students and medical residents in our community, and many locate here when they finish their training. I like to brag that three of our staff anesthetists returned here after training here as residents, and that’s at a time when many hospitals can’t run their operating rooms fully because of a critical shortage of these extremely important human resources.”

Not wanting to rob Peter to pay Paul, the task force does not seek out doctors already practicing in other areas, but does respond to all inquiries. “After practice and life in a community for a number of years, the medical family’s needs may change.Ê Barrie and area often is an attractive choice for those relocating from other communities in Ontario and Canada,” said Dr. Rick Irvin, a retired family physician and one of the founders of the task force. “The task force is able to show the prospective medical family what life and practice in Barrie and area is like, to help with the decision of relocation. We find the physicians who seek us out usually want this to be their last move, and it usually is – our retention rate is excellent.”

But as Dr. Ballagh puts it, now is not the time for the task force to rest on their laurels. “Our success needs to continue, as our community has a voracious appetite for more doctors, and our job won’t be over for a very long time,” said Dr. Ballagh.