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Finding doctors for an aging community

Marco Vigliotti The Sarnia area needs to attract three to four new doctors each year just to replace the family physicians nearing retirement. So says Carly Nienhuis, coordinator of the Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia Lambton.
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Marco Vigliotti

The Sarnia area needs to attract three to four new doctors each year just to replace the family physicians nearing retirement.

So says Carly Nienhuis, coordinator of the Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia Lambton.

The taskforce is actively seeking successors for two family doctors about to retire.

"Family physicians operate their own businesses and one of the difficulties we have is finding out when their retirements will actually take effect," she said.

"There are a number who are looking to retire, but we aren’t aware of their specific plans."

Many family physicians approaching retirement have 3,000 or more patients, which means multiple doctors will be needed to fill the void, Nienhuis said.

The Ministry of Health uses a roster standard of 1,380 patients per doctor, she said.

Lambton County is projecting only modest growth so the taskforce can focus on replacement rather than additional physicians, Nienhuis says.

Shauna Carr, executive director of the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board, warns an aging population will strain local services.

“When the baby boomers turn 80 and older there will be an increase in demand on the health-care system, as this group is likely to have long-term disabilities and illnesses,” she said.

But Nienhuis said the Sarnia area is well equipped to treat aging residents.

For example, she pointed to the community health centre model as being specifically designed to deal with patients with the complex health issues often found in older populations.

As for luring physicians, Sarnia’s natural beauty, modern hospital and varied “practice models” are attractive features for new graduates, Nienhuis said.

A proposal to turn Sarnia’s vacant General Hospital site into a health campus - featuring local health agencies, clinics and pharmacies – could be an added incentive, she said, although it’s too soon to know what practice opportunities might be available there.

“Newly graduated physicians…. like the fact there are other health professionals in their workplace that they can promptly refer clients to,” Nienhuis said.