Patients wanting to see a doctor can expect longer waits and more difficulty getting appointments in March.
There is now one less doctor in the Fort, as Dr. Joshua has left, and of the three remaining doctors, two will be alternating time off in March, so there will only be two doctors available to see patients.
Dr. Stent, who runs the local clinic, said he has been working to recruit new doctors for the area, but one doctor who was supposed to come at the end of February has now decided not to move to Canada at all.
“That was like 6 months of recruiting effort, etcetera, which came to nothing, and that happens fairly often,” said Stent.
The difficulty in recruiting doctors is due partly to the nature of rural medicine according to Stent.
“There’s a far greater responsibility for a general practitioner working in a rural community than there is in the city, it’s a much easier job in the city,” he said.
Stent hopes to be able to recruit one or more of a group of doctors coming into the country in July or August, but until then, the Fort will be working with only three doctors, in a community Stent believes should have five full-time physicians in order to balance the work load and maintain a degree of sanity and work-life balance.
Over the years recruiting doctors, it seems to be the foreign doctors who are attracted to the rural lifestyle and end up staying for any length of time in Fort St. James. In the 21 years Dr. Stent has been in the Fort, the longest he’s had a Canadian trained doctor for was 18 months.
There is some concern, that should the recruiting effort fail to replace Dr. Joshua, the work load will wear on the remaining doctors and other doctors may look to move on to another community.
This is what has happened in Burns Lake, where the local physicians have resigned from doing call, which may force the local hospital to close.
While this closure won’t effect the Fort, it would impact other area hospitals such as Houston, Smithers and Vanderhoof.
After March, wait times in the Fort will improve, but will still be more difficult than in the past to see a doctor quickly, according to Stent, but he hopes to offset some of the loss of Dr. Joshua with locums, one week visits by doctors from other areas.
But the Fort has another impending doctor shortage, as Dr. Stent himself is hoping to reduce his hours and semi-retire by the middle of next year.
Due to the fact it is his clinic which services the Fort, Stent is working with community leaders to find a long-term solution so he can step down from the duties of running the clinic and recruiting physicians. Stent would still work half-time and continue to provide medical services.