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Alberta Health Services says three anesthesiologists are heading to Red Deer

Retaining anesthesiologists remains an issue, says Red Deer doctor
Alberta Health Services says recruitment of anesthesiologists for Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is underway. (File photo by Advocate staff)

A Red Deer anesthesiologist says two of his colleagues are leaving the local hospital and he worries that retention problems will continue even if new staff are hired.

In late October, the hospital narrowly avoided diverting surgery patients to other hospitals by dealing with empty on-call shifts for anesthesiologists.

On Monday, Alberta Health Services said seven anesthesiologists are in various stages of recruitment, assessment and/or credentialling and three new recruits are set to start at the Red Deer hospital in the New Year.

But anesthesiologist Dr. Arun Anand expects only a few will make it through the approval process. He’s seen it before.

He said AHS focuses on recruiting international doctors who fail assessments about 80 per cent of the time because the specialty is practised differently around the world and recruits do not receive the necessary orientation to be successful in the Canadian health system.

“I don’t have a lot of hope. They are international people and odds are they’re going to fail,” Anand said on Monday.

“That’s not really a solution in my mind.”


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In a statement, AHS said there has been success with hiring international medical graduates and more are on the way.

“In addition to targeted recruitment and retention, including work with a head hunter to support recruitment of international medical graduates, AHS has implemented an income guarantee for anesthesiologists,” AHS said in an email statement.

“Reworked the OR schedule at RDRHC with input from the anesthesiology team to help reduce nighttime on-call levels to support work-life balance; provided signing bonuses, reimbursement for relocation and paid site tours; collaborated with rural surgical sites in Central Zone to help increase their capacity for emergency cases to take some pressure off RDRHC; and adopted clinical assistants as part of the anesthesia care team.”


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Anand said AHS needs to be able to recruit Canadians who already have their licences and credentials, and Red Deer needs to balance the workload to retain them. Right now, specialists work nights and they are on call to handle the difficult cases, while general practitioner anesthesiologists work day shifts. Both earn the same salary.

He said general practitioner anesthesiologists would be suited to rural hospitals like Olds or Innisfail. Pushing them on Red Deer is not a fair or sustainable practice.

“I think we’re going to lose more people,” Anand said.

In September, Red Deer surgeons warned the hospital’s surgery program was on the brink of collapse due to a severe lack of staff and resources. They reported that over the past two years the hospital has experienced significant attrition of operating room anesthesiologists and nurses due to years of inadequate infrastructure, and human resources planning and funding.

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