With no family doctors accepting new patients in Red Deer, the city’s mayor is looking to follow Lethbridge’s example of getting the municipality to help recruit new doctors to the community.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said he has already phoned Lethbridge’s Mayor Blaine Hyggen to discuss how efforts in the southern Alberta community have helped successfully draw in 17 new doctors in 2022.
“I’m certainly very happy for the success in Lethbridge,” said Johnston. He added that he would love for the City of Red Deer to follow suit — although he anticipates our community would face different pros and cons.
After the City of Lethbridge partnered with Alberta Health Services on doctor recruitment, they jointly tripled the number of doctors that moved to the community last year compared to 2021.
A large-scale recruitment drive was launched using a $25,000 investment from the City of Lethbridge. Advertisements ran across Canada touting local attractions, including hiking opportunities and sun-shiny weather.
The City of Lethbridge also create a physician shortage action plan geared towards recruiting and retaining family doctors. It was approved by their council last May. The plan included lobbying the province to improve Lethbridge’s health facilities and connecting incoming family doctors with various services, from real estate to child care.
Of the 17 new doctors that were recruited to Lethbridge last year, 16 were internationally trained. AHS expedited their credentialing process and spent up to $80,000 to sponsor each physician to enter Canada. AHS also covered the costs of their relocation and assessment, as required by Alberta’s regulatory body.
Johnston said on Wednesday that he’s eager to explore this kind of recruitment partnership between the city and Alberta Health Services. He already has a May 2 meeting set up with representatives of AHS and the local Primary Care Network.
Johnston believes Red Deer’s family doctor situation is as dire as that of Lethbridge and many other Alberta communities that are experiencing a family doctor crisis.
In some ways, he thinks Red Deer could have more to offer internationally trained doctors in terms of lifestyle than Lethbridge, as various cultural communities are now established in the city. “If you are a doctor from Nigeria, you will find a thriving Nigerian cultural community, if you are from South Africa, you will find other members here from South Africa…”
On the negative side are ongoing shortages at Red Deer hospital that work against doctors achieving a good work-life balance, said the Mayor. “The days of doctors (being willing) to work 15-hour days is over.”
While the local hospital is due to be expanded by 2030-31, there isn’t yet a plan for how operations can be improved over the next seven years. Johnston said the City of Red Deer already sent a letter to Alberta Health Services as well as Alberta Health to back doctors’ calls for a hospital transition plan and will continue to lobby for it.
As for marketing the city to international doctors, Johnston believes the City of Red Deer’s website contains strong selling points. After the May 2 meeting, he expects to know whether council should consider making a marketing investment towards advertising, as did the City of Lethbridge, or what other steps are needed.