While medical schools may turn out graduates there are not enough training spaces to keep them in the north, communities say. (Black Press file photo)

While medical schools may turn out graduates there are not enough training spaces to keep them in the north, communities say. (Black Press file photo)

Northwest B.C. communities call for help amid doctor shortage

Communities say more training spaces needed for medical residents

Local governments are joining together to urge the province to increase the number of doctors being trained in the north.

They’re zeroing in on the number of training spaces for residents, the term given to medical school graduates who must still spend two years under the supervision of physicians to become family practitioners.

A letter sent to provincial health minister Adrian Dix from the North West Regional Hospital District, which is made up of municipalities and rural areas across the northwest, outlined the need.

“Resources to support physicians in regions like northwest B.C. are essential to attract and retain enough physician to provide services to our communities,” it states.

Speaking later, regional hospital district chair Barry Pages, who is a village councillor in Masset on Haida Gwaii, said the letter was sent after the board began hearing that communities across the northwest are increasingly short of doctors.

“A number of directors [on the hospital district board] have been raising this issue as a significant one of concern within their communities,” he said. “A significant number of people are without a family physician.”

The concern is that while medical schools may turn out graduates, if there are not enough resident training spaces, the effort to increase the number of fully-qualified physicians will falter.

There are a limited number of locations in the area where residents can be trained.

Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, for instance, can take two residents at any one time with a focus on rural medicine.

Pages said the prospect of increased training spaces for residents in the north fits one of the founding principles of the medical training program at UNBC.

“The more people we train in the north, the more people will stay in the north so what we are asking now is more resources for that [training] program,” he said.

Pages reached back to the years before the medical training program opened at UNBC as a satellite of the UBC medical school, to note that communities across the north raised money to back up their position that there needed to be a training program based in the north.

“There was a lot of effort put into that,” he said of the campaign which resulted in the Northern Medical Program taking in its first students in 2004.

A trust to assist medical students now stands at $9.5 million through contributions from around the north.

Each year the school admits 32 students so that there are 128 within the four-year program at any one time.

“And now we’re asking for the province to put together the business case for this,” he said of adding more resident spaces.

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