The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority has hired seven new physicians.

Between August and October the Yellowknife Region of the health authority hired the seven doctors, six of whom will work in Yellowknife clinics. Based on their skills they may also work in services such as labour and delivery, or at Stanton Territorial Hospital, stated communications manager David Maguire in an email.

“One of the hires is an emergency medicine physician working out of Stanton (Territorial Hospital),” said Maguire.

“It’s important to note that many of the doctors working in our system are not simply located in one clinic and one role. They provide services across our different facilities and areas of specialty depending on their skills and training,” said Maguire.

Four of the new doctors hired to work in Yellowknife are from the same family.

“Dr. Ruth Wilson and her husband Dr. Ian Casson, as well as their daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Meg Casson and Dr. Zach Bordman,” said Maguire.

Dr. Wilson and Dr. Casson were hired for a one-year term to provide as-and-when needed coverage, or approximately three hours per day when needed, Maguire explained.

“This arrangement fits with their work-life balance needs and allows for coverage in our clinics for our full-time practitioners and for increased capacity when required,” stated Maguire.

The other five were hired as permanent contracted physicians.

Physician shortages in the North

The territories fall behind the rest of Canada when it comes to the number of doctors per capita.

Data from the Canadian Medical Association shows that in 2018 there were only 161 physicians practicing in the territories, out of 84,260 across Canada.

The territories are also lacking in specialists, and currently have no permanent cardiologists, geriatric medicine specialists, or surgical specialists. In fact, there are only 27 specialists practicing across the three territories, yet they number hundreds and thousands in every other province.

In August the medical clinic in Fort Smith was closed for nearly a month due to a physician shortage.

The territorial health authority is the body responsible for hiring new doctors and generating interest to practice in the Northwest Territories.

“While vacancies are often hard to anticipate we are always in the process of hiring health system staff, physicians included,” said Maguire.

But the process for hiring new doctors in the territory is not an easy one.

“The process would include generating leads for interest in open positions and then determining, based on the physician and their specific skills, where that individual would fit best in our system,” said Maguire.

From there they work with the doctors to co-ordinate their contracts and ensure they are privileged, which is a process of verifying skills and abilities for specific areas of medical practice, and able to practice in the Northwest Territories, he said.

But the bigger part of the picture is the work done to generate interest in practicing in the territory, Maguire said.

“To do this we attend regular conferences for ongoing recruitment of physicians in addition to advertising current opportunities on many different physician-related journals and websites. In addition, we advertise to certain universities and have short-term arrangements to attract medical residents to the NWT who in the future may become a potential candidate for locum or permanent work. We regularly communicate with all returning locums to help spread the word about NWT opportunities,” said Maguire, adding they tend to be successful recruiting through word of mouth from permanent and returning locum physicians.

“They have been instrumental in hiring newer physicians to the NWT as they participate at the recruitment booths at the conferences, attract interest during lectures at conferences, promote the practice environment and lifestyle as well as provide ongoing professional and social support,” said Maguire.

The health authority also has two dedicated recruiters who focus on the marketing and recruitment efforts for the NWT who promote the territory as a choice of career to medical learners and locum practitioners.

Meaghan Richens

Meaghan Richens is from Ottawa, Ont., and grew up in Perth. She moved to Yellowknife in May 2018 after completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Carleton University. She writes about politics,...

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