It’s easy to forget that not so long ago, Estevan was a city in desperate need of physicians.
We were down to 10, and with two of them being specialists, it meant we had just eight family physicians seeing patients on a regular basis.
Those eight physicians were booked up to the point where they weren’t accepting new patients. New in town and in need of a doctor? Too bad, you had to go on a wait list.
It reached the point in which a physician was stationed in the emergency department of St. Joseph’s Hospital on weekdays, in addition to the emergency room coverage provided by the physicians on a 24-hour emergency basis.
When three doctors moved to the community in the spring, it alleviated some of the crunch. Three more physicians are now in Estevan, bringing the number of doctors to 16, a much more comfortable number for a community the size of Estevan.
It means that people should be able to find a physician, and build that important relationship between doctor and patient. It also means that the doctors in the community should be able to have a reasonable workload.
Being a doctor is a very demanding job that requires long hours. A physician shortage makes their job that much more difficult.
But this doesn’t mean that the hard work is over for those tasked with keeping Estevan’s physician count at a reasonable level.
Bringing doctors to a community is one thing. Keeping them is another. And that’s a difficult task.
There are thousands of cities, towns and villages across the country with a hospital or health centre, and virtually all of them have gone through a physician shortage at some point. They’re in the same boat as Estevan. If they aren’t encountering a doctor shortage now, then they need to consider how to avoid a doctor shortage.
And that’s the challenge for Estevan. You not only have to find a way to bring a doctor to the community, when so many other communities are in need of doctors, but you have to find a way to retain those doctors, because other communities would gladly take that doctor from you.
So they have to ask themselves what they can offer that other communities can’t.
We have a lot going for ourselves, with a good hospital, good schools, the proximity to the U.S. and relatively close proximity to larger centres. And we have excellent sports and recreation facilities, and plenty of opportunities for those who enjoy the great outdoors.
The problem is, there are lots of communities in Canada with those attributes as well.
There are other issues beyond retention. We need a permanent anesthesiologist. Dr. Anthony Davies left in June. Dr. Mehdi Horri is back at work, but his anesthesiology privileges have not been restored.
A temporary solution has been in place since Davies left, but something more permanent is needed, either through the locum physician currently practising here, or another solution.
Getting a medical residency to Estevan would be a big step forward. The arrival of the longitudinal integrated clerkship is a positive for the community. It brings someone who will likely eventually be a physician.
We certainly hope that Lindsay Richels and her family will not only enjoy their time at our hospital, and in the community as a whole, but they will want to practise here once she finishes medical school.
But a residency brings more young physicians to a community. It provides a great opportunity to learn. And it can go a long ways in providing a solution to physician shortages in a city.
If Estevan shows it can handle the clerkship program – and we’re confident that it will – then we hope a residency program will eventually find its way here.
And, of course, the retention efforts need to continue. We need to end the peaks and valleys that we have seen with the local physician count over the years.
It’s great we have 16 physicians now in the community. But there’s lots of work that still remains to keep that number high.