Lack of doctors leads to service changes at Princeton Hospital

Only the most urgent cases will be seen at the Princeton General Hospital many nights in January due to lack of doctors on call.

A shortage of doctors has led to service changes for the emergency room during the night at the Princeton General Hospital.

A shortage of doctors has led to service changes for the emergency room during the night at the Princeton General Hospital.

A shortage of doctors constantly plagues Princeton, causing difficulty in staffing on-call doctors for the emergency room at night.

Most days this month, doctors are only responding to the most serious cases from 8 a.m. to midnight.

This Friday, the emergency room will have limited service from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Limited availability from 8 a.m. to midnight will also occur on Jan. 14 to 19, Jan. 23 to 26 and Jan. 30 and 31.

A nurse will be at the hospital during the night to assess patients. Depending on their condition, they may be transferred to another hospital.

Being on-call can be tough on doctors, who also work during the day.

“Doctors need a full night’s sleep so they can work the next day. When they’re on-call, they’re also running their offices during the day,” said Coun. Marilyn Harkness, who is on the Princeton Health Committee.

More doctors are needed in Princeton, but it has proved a challenge attracting them.

Like most other small communities across Canada, Princeton is looking to ways to attract new graduates, who mostly prefer to practice in large cities.

“It’s very rare to find Canadian graduates that work in rural areas. This was the case even before there were shortages,” said Harkness.

The only exceptions are resort-based rural areas, such as Whistler and certain towns in the Kootenays, she said.

Another obstacle to recruiting doctors is the lack of certain jobs in Princeton.

If a doctor wants to work in town, their partner also has to be in agreement.

“Sometimes spouses want to live where there are more shops, restaurants and entertainment,” Harkness said.

“Partners are often professionals too, and we might not have a position for them.”

Locums can be difficult to find, but are useful for doctors who want to go on holidays. They also work on-call to staff the emergency room at night.

Relief doctors are often recent graduates who want to travel around the province before they settle down or retired doctors who want to keep busy.

But there is hope. Doctors educated outside Canada often choose smaller communities.

Canadian medical graduates who earned their degrees internationally often have a hard time finding a place to work, causing many to choose small communities, Harkness said.

Interior Health is currently advertising for doctors in Princeton and offers financial benefits for those who choose to practice in town.

But the health authority doesn’t recruit from everywhere.

“There are certain countries that need their own doctors, and that would be seen as stealing them to meet our own need,” Harkness said.

However, if a doctor from one of those countries – such as South Africa – wanted to practice in Princeton, Interior Health would be interested.