Incentive to lure rural physicians applauded

A Sylvan Lake physician and advocate for rural health care said the federal government offered an innovative way to encourage doctors and nurses to practice in remote areas.

Dr. Fred Janke in his Sylvan Lake practice Wednesday.

Dr. Fred Janke in his Sylvan Lake practice Wednesday.

A Sylvan Lake physician and advocate for rural health care said the federal government offered an innovative way to encourage doctors and nurses to practice in remote areas.

The budget introduced by the Conservatives Tuesday afternoon included an initiative that will forgive up to $40,000 in student loans for doctors and up to $20,000 for nurses who work in rural communities.

“I thought it was a really creative look at how to provide some incentives to graduating physicians to go to rural or remote areas,” said Dr. Fred Janke.

The 70 medical professional positions currently being advertised in Alberta’s Central Zone prove that rural physicians are desperately needed, he said.

And for every physician that retires, at least two will need to be hired as the younger generation is not interested in putting in as many long hours, he continued.

Financial assistance, Janke believes, is just one solution that may convince some doctors to practice in a rural setting.

Janke has spent the past 27 years working in Sylvan Lake and the past 10 years mentoring young professionals interested in working in sparsely-populated centres.

The demanding workload, limited work available for significant others and lack of exposure to rural medicine are all factors that keep doctors and nurses away, he said.

“I think it’s a great start,” Janke said of the Tory initiative.

“But I think you have to look at all these other factors.”

Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen said the incentive was one of the budget highlights.

He served on the rural hospital board in Elnora in the 1980s and remembers how challenging it was to attract physicians.

“I think the forgiveness of part of their Canada Student Loans for that purpose is going to be great,” he said.

Bruce Buruma, vice-chair of the David Thompson Health Advisory Board, said physician recruitment and retainment in rural areas is a province-wide issue.

He, therefore, applauded the government for including this incentive in the budget.

“I think any of the initiatives that will help support getting physicians into rural communities is an important one,” he said.

“It’s good that it’s on the radar. It’s on the radar of our communities and we need to continue working on solutions for this.”

The likelihood that this budget will be enacted, at least anytime soon, is slim as the Liberals, NDP and Bloc have all said they will not support the financial document.

With a looming election, both Buruma and Janke hope the next government will continue pursuing ways to tackle doctor and nursing shortfalls in rural areas.

“I do hope that whoever the future government is, that they continue to look at rural medicine in a serious light,” Janke said.

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com