It is very easy to point out the challenges we are currently facing in our healthcare system, with staffing shortages being at the top of that list. Even easier is highlighting all of the ways these issues are beyond our control. For example, staffing shortages are an issue across the Atlantic Provinces, it is often difficult to offer competitive salaries, doctors don’t practice the same way that they used to and many do not take on as many patients as they once did.
In many ways, responsibility has been placed on individual communities, and particularly our more rural communities, to play an active role in finding and recruiting doctors. Without direct connections already in place or dedicated staff to facilitate the recruitment process, this can be daunting if not impossible for small communities to achieve.
Unfortunately, far too often the sentiment seems to be, “We’re doing everything we can but insert any reason from the list of things we cannot control here.”
Are we asking the right questions?
I believe we have not been spending enough time asking ourselves what are the things that we CAN control? What are the things about PEI that make this a great place to live and work? How can we leverage this to our advantage?
Have we been effectively harnessing the power of communities to support and retain our healthcare professionals? Are we seeking the expertise and support of community-based organizations such as the PEI Newcomers Association? Socialization, community integration and the well-being of, and opportunities for, a professional’s children and families have all been shown to encourage and support retention. With strong and vibrant communities across our province, this is an area within which we can really excel if we properly empower and support them.
It is clear we need to know more about how doctors and healthcare professionals are experiencing their work and lives once they are here. In November 2019, the Minister of Health tabled a document outlining approaches to recruitment and retention currently being implemented. Of the five pages, only one bullet point was devoted to retention. Additionally, the document refers to a survey being administered to current physicians and those who have left their practices here in PEI in the past five years. This would seem to be a good step. However, it all depends on what types of questions are asked, how the data is gathered and, most importantly, what are the next steps?
What we do know
What we know from extensive research that already exists on retention is that it is not all about pay. There are many other factors that are just as important, if not more so, for retaining healthcare professionals.
Creating and promoting healthy workplaces where workers at all levels are supported and work together in a team environment will also go a long way. When implemented correctly, rural healthcare hubs have been shown to foster an important collaborative approach to healthcare by maintaining and supporting primary care services throughout our rural communities. At the same time, doctors need to be afforded enough autonomy to make decisions about their practices, and what works for them and the local community. Instead of shaming doctors for seeking some amount of work life balance, we need to recognize that taking time for professional development and personal wellbeing supports a better quality of care for everyone.
Building a better retention strategy
Maintaining a well-staffed healthcare system has to go beyond simply filling positions. Unlike collecting baseball cards – or in my daughter’s case, Pokemon cards – it is not enough to simply “catch ‘em all”. Convincing doctors and healthcare professionals to come here is an essential first step, but we have to remember these professionals don’t owe us anything. No matter where they choose to practice, they will be doing important meaningful work, they will be making a difference and helping people. It’s time our government starts working to show healthcare professionals that PEI is where they WANT to do this meaningful work. We can offer them the important intangibles that many of their colleagues don’t have. Let them see that we have their best interests in mind as well.
Background Information: Evidence-based Retention of Healthcare Workers
MLA Trish Altass is the Official Opposition Shadow Critic for Health and Wellness. Originally published by the PEI Green Official Opposition Caucus.