‘Perfect storm’ causing family physician shortage in Cambridge

By Matt Betts

The shortage of health care professionals has been well documented over the past two years.

This past summer alone the Cambridge Memorial Hospital posted for 260 job vacancies. It can feel like a winless race to keep up with the surging needs of the community, while combating worker burn out throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately for many residents in Cambridge, the shortage is also hitting doctors' offices.

“Currently, it’s a perfect storm leading to challenges for anyone who is looking for a family doctor,” Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and local family doctor said.

“First, fewer medical students are choosing family medicine. As our population ages, patients need more complex health supports that often require more time at each appointment. Without equal access to team-based care, family doctors are left without the needed supports for their patients, such as nursing, mental health professionals and administrative staff.”

Dr. Kumanan points to recent research that showed nearly 1.8 million Ontarian’s already did not have a regular family doctor as of 2020. Additionally, 1.7 million residents in the province have a family doctor over the age of 65 that are likely soon to retire.

If the current trends continue, more than three million people in the province could be without a family doctor by 2025, she says.

Kumanan explains that when the city has a shortage of family physicians, it has ripple effects throughout the health care field.

“When so many Ontarian’s don’t have a family doctor, it often means people may seek care in hospital emergency rooms or rely on walk-in clinics for care, which is not ideal,” she said.

“We also know that when people don’t have a family doctor, it can result in delayed care and more advanced medical issues.”

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken and people working hard to secure future doctors.

Kumanan recommends visiting Ontario Health’s Healthcare Connect if you’re looking for a doctor. She also encourages residents to send their MPP a message to let them know their struggle to find one, which will hopefully reinforce the severity of the problem.

Doctors4Cambridge is an organization that tries to recruit new physicians to the city.

Donna Gravelle is a physician recruitment coordinator for the organization and says they're always searching and attempting to convince doctors of the benefits of practicing in Cambridge.

“We keep in touch with medical students, we go to residents medical schools and we advertise on our website,” Gravelle said.

“I think we've been very successful because we've been doing it for so long. We have recruited roughly 120 family physicians.”

Gravelle and her team also set up tours of the city for potential physicians to show what the community has to offer.

“We have four lined up for November,” she said.

“We find out what kind of clinic they’re looking to work in and give them an idea of what living in the city is like. We have a lot to offer, we’re close to the 401 and close to Toronto. Being on the Grand River we have a beautiful community and good schools. Physicians get to know and form relationships with doctors at the hospital.”

Kumanan says that along with recruiting new physicians, the health care field needs to find ways to reduce administrative burdens that take up valuable time.

“Currently, most family doctors spend more than 25 per cent of their time on administrative tasks that could be reduced by looking at ways in which we better integrate our health care system locally,” she said.

“This could include streamlining referral processes for diagnostic tests and specialists consults and integrating our electronic medical records.”

In order to properly serve the community it’s going to take a team approach, she says.

“If all patients in our area could access care from a family doctor who works alongside a team, this would allow patients to access care from the right person at the right time and allow the family doctor to spend more time supporting our more complex patients,” she said.

“Ultimately, by improving the ways in which we provide care, we may be able to recruit and retain more family doctors to Cambridge.”

For more information on Doctors4Cambridge visit doctors4cambridge.com

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