While physician recruitment continues to be an issue in Ponoka, Battle River Medical Clinic (BRMC) is seeing some relief with the addition, although temporary, of Dr. Kyla Adams.
Dr. Adams, a recent graduate from the rural family physician’s program at the University of Alberta under the Red Deer Regional Hospital, is joined the clinic in September on an eight-month contract.
She will be available to provide continuity of care for those Ponoka-area residents now without a family doctor and currently “unattached patients” says Dr. Gregory Sawisky, a physician with BRMC.
Ponoka is an ideal position for her at the moment, as it’s a relatively young clinic, which will provide her with some mentorship before she moves on, he says.
Ponoka town and county offers a lot for new graduates, as they will be able to experience the full scope of rural family health care, from clinic to hospital work, as well as in-home care that is quite “gratifying,” says Sawisky.
He added that the clinic is also welcoming and supportive to its physicians.
Dr. Sawisky says the clinic continues to struggle to recruit new doctors, no small part due to the “fractious relationship” between Alberta physicians and the provincial government.
“They’ve not made it easier with their current strong-armed approach to physician recruitment.”
With Alberta’s aging population, there is an increasing need for family physicians, however, recent graduates are leaving the province as soon as they complete their training, he says.
“The Alberta government is paying to train doctors who are then leaving the province.”
Sawisky added that doctors are “voting with their feet” and going to provinces that “respect their training and abilities.”
Provincial budget cuts and policies are making it more challenging to provide quality health care in Ponoka, he says.
The legal fight between the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and the province is ongoing, and there’s “no sign of resolution in future.”
There are currently eight family doctors at BRMC, however, according to Sawisky the clinic easily has room for 12 physicians.
“Especially considering Ponoka’s proximity to Maskwacis, there is a huge need in this area for family physicians,” he said.
“It’s frustrating and infuriating to me that the government is more concerned with balancing the budget than they are with caring for their own citizens.
“What good is a balanced budget when peoples’ health deteriorates?”
Sawisky says the clinic appreciates the support of the Town of Ponoka, and that the clinic may need to collaborate more proactively with the town in the future, such as to create a recruitment committee.
According to information provided by the town, back in 2011 or 2012, the town was involved with a Retention and Attraction of Rural Physicians Program in partnership with the local medical clinic to try to address a physician shortage in Ponoka at that time.
According to Mayor Rick Bonnett, who was a town councillor then, there was a a physician recruitment and retention committee in Ponoka, but the committee hasn’t been active for at least the past five years.
Back then, the clinic had been successful in bringing in more medical students and resident doctors, says Bonnett.
The town provided then, and still does, free recreation passes to town recreation facilities to medical students and residents who come to work at the local medical clinic.
“Access to recreation facilities can be an important quality of life attraction for new physicians when deciding where they want to work,” said Bonnett.
“The intention was to ensure these medical students and residents felt welcome to the community and might consider returning to Ponoka to practise medicine once they had completed their schooling.”
Although Bonnett says the town hasn’t been approached by the clinic requesting any additional assistance with physician recruitment initiatives, they are aware of the current challenges with physicians leaving the community.
“Physician retention and recruitment is very important in a small community like Ponoka,” said Bonnett.
“The town recognizes that and would be open to discussion with the local medical clinic if they wish to reach out and see what else we might be able to do to help.”