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Sault needs up to 15 family docs, says local recruiter

Recruiters have said many med school grads are more likely to hang up their shingle in or near the communities in which they have been trained
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The need for more family physicians in Sault Ste. Marie continues as the province’s health care system goes through a time of crisis.

That crisis includes a shortage of nurses, long wait times for care at hospital emergency departments, long waits for admittance to hospital rooms if necessary and, in some communities, closures of EDs for one or more days at a time.

Locally, there is a current need for 12 to 15 doctors in family medicine as well as specialists in obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry and internal medicine, said Christine Pagnucco, Sault Ste. Marie Physician Recruitment and Retention Program manager in an email to SooToday.

The program was formed in 2002 with the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Area Hospital, Group Health Centre and Algoma West Academy of Medicine as partners.  

Since then, the program has recruited 193 physicians.

Program officials, on an ongoing basis, meet with medical school students and recent graduates and promote the quality of life in Sault Ste. Marie that awaits them if they decide to set up their practices in this community.

Almost half (48 per cent) of all the program’s recruits have had some of their medical training in Sault Ste. Marie, Pagnucco told SooToday. 

“The ties we have with Northern Ontario School of Medicine are of vital importance in this process,” Pagnucco stated.

Four NOSM Family Medicine residents train in Sault Ste. Marie per year, along with one psychiatry resident per year.

There are currently four NOSM residents in the Sault.

The province announced on March 15 that increased funding will be made available for 30 additional medical school positions and 41 medical residency positions at NOSM as well as more across the province.

Pagnucco said that is a step forward in addressing the shortage of physicians in the north and throughout the province.

Recruiters have said that many med school graduates are more likely to hang up their shingle in or near the communities in which they have been trained.

“NOSM selects medical students who reflect the demographics of the population of northern Ontario and who have a strong interest in, and aptitude for, practicing medicine in northern urban, rural and remote communities,” wrote Kimberley Larkin, NOSM communications manager in an email.

NOSM said out of 69 spots available in its MD program for September 2022, 64 spots were available for all applicants and include 58 students from northern Ontario, another six from other rural and remote communities in Canada.

The remaining five spots at NOSM for September are dedicated to the Military Medical Training Program (MMTP) and paid for by the Department of National Defence (DND).

“NOSM University is very successful in graduating MDs who choose to become family doctors in northern Ontario and across the country,” Larkin wrote.

  • On average, 52 per cent of NOSM University MD graduates select Family Medicine as their first choice for residency 
  • On average, 57 per cent of NOSM University MD graduates are matched to Family Medicine, compared to 42 per cent for all Canadian applicants

Meanwhile, hoping that as many NOSM grads as possible choose to practise family medicine in Sault Ste. Marie, the Sault Ste. Marie Physician Recruitment and Retention Program continues its work.

“The recruitment program offers a relocation allowance as well as costs associated with a site visit for the physicians and their family,” Pagnucco wrote.

“Once recruited, we work closely with the physician and family to ensure they are settled in our community providing information relating to daycares, schools, extra-curricular activities and if needed, support for spousal employment. We are active participants in the Spousal Employment Committee at the City. We also connect them with the New to the Sault program for cultural support if needed.”

Program officials travel to recruitment fairs and reach out through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s website, regularly posting practice opportunities available in Sault Ste. Marie.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie is working with the program in doctor recruitment, marketing the community nationally and internationally - including key overseas markets such as the U.K. -  as a good place to set up a practice.

“We’ve heard from physicians that they want to move to a community that offers a modern health care facility with exciting practice opportunities. Quality of life is a major driver as well. With a short commute and having nature and recreational opportunities nearby, it allows physicians to spend more time with family and taking part in the things they love to do. That coupled with living in a community that is friendly and welcoming is a major factor in attracting physicians to Sault Ste. Marie,” Pagnucco wrote.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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