$100,000 offered for rural doctors

In the Interior Health Authority, Princeton is funded for two general practitioners.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid

VICTORIA – The B.C. government and the B.C Medical Association are offering doctors a $100,000 bonus to relocate to selected rural communities for three years.

The latest incentive is on top of a program to forgive student debt for doctors who will set up a medical practice outside urban areas, and other inducements to graduating and foreign doctors to venture outside large cities.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and BCMA president Dr. Shelley Ross announced the program Wednesday. Both said it was a difficult task picking the most needy locations, and expressed hope that it is successful and can be expanded.

In the Interior Health Authority, Princeton and Clearwater are funded for two general practitioners each, and Nakusp gets one. Cranbrook is funded for one anesthesiologist.

In Northern Health, the fund will be offered for one general practitioner each in Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Hazelton, Kitimat and Tumbler Ridge. Quesnel is funded for one internal medicine internist, and Terrace is funded for one anesthesiologist.

In Vancouver Coastal region, one general practitioner each is funded for Bella Coola and Pemberton.

In the Vancouver Island Health Authority, Port Hardy is funded for two general practitioners and Port Alberni gets the only emergency physician provided for in the program. Tofino and Galiano Island are funded for one general practitioner each.

MacDiarmid, a family doctor in Rossland before going into politics, said these won’t be typical office-based medical practices. The GP positions will involve hospital and residential care, supported by a relief physician program so doctors can take some weekends and vacations.

Some involve “outreach” visits to even more remote communities, including aboriginal villages.

The program is funded out of the $10 million rural recruitment budget agreed to in the latest fee agreement with the BCMA. B.C. spends about $100 million on these programs, including one to provide continuing medical training for remote doctors.

Ross said some of the communities have had great difficulty keeping doctors, and some have lost all resident physicians at times. The program is open to new graduates, physicians from out of province and qualified foreign doctors.

“We’re short of doctors, even in downtown Vancouver,” Ross said.

Eligible doctors will get $50,000 up front and the rest after one year, with repayment required if they don’t stay for three years.