The provincial government has announced new funding to attract more recently-graduated physicians to rural Saskatchewan communities and improve patients’ access to physician services.
The new Rural Physician Incentive Program will provide $120,000 in funding over five years to recent medical graduates who establish practice in rural communities of 10,000 or less.
“Recruiting doctors to rural areas and keeping them once they’re here is a huge priority for our government,” Premier Brad Wall said. “We’ve had some really solid success, increasing the Saskatchewan’s overall physician supply, but there are challenges in rural communities. This program will help improve patient access to physician services in rural areas.”
“I’ve heard firsthand from many rural residents that physician services are a serious concern,” Minister responsible for Rural and Remote Health Randy Weekes said. “This is another way that we’re working to keep our commitment to address health care needs in smaller communities.”
Eligible physicians will receive a payment at the end of each year of practice, with payments gradually increasing over the five-year period. Wall announced the new program at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities annual convention in Saskatoon on March 13.
“We are very pleased the provincial government has developed a program aimed specifically at increasing the number of physicians in rural Saskatchewan,” SARM President Dave Marit said. “Municipalities work very hard to recruit and retain their local doctors, and we believe this new program will provide a strong incentive for medical graduates to consider rural practice.”
Newly-graduated doctors typically finish studies with a large debt load due to their many years of education. The incentive is designed to help ease that financial burden. It fulfills and improves upon a commitment the Premier and government made during the 2011 election campaign.
“The incentives in this program will benefit patients by addressing the critical shortage of family physicians in rural Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan Medical Association President Dr. Janet Shannon said. “I know how challenging it has been for rural communities to recruit and retain physicians, but I also know there are many benefits to living and practising medicine in rural Saskatchewan. The SMA is happy to see a program focussed on easing the financial burden of recent graduates and we believe this program will benefit both rural communities and our doctors.”
The program will be retroactive to April 1, 2012, and will be open to both Canadian and international medical graduates. It will be administered by saskdocs, the province’s Physician Recruitment Agency.
“Saskdocs is pleased to administer this new incentive program in close collaboration with its partners,” saskdocs’ CEO Ed Mantler said. “The recruitment of physicians, especially to rural or remote communities, is a real challenge. We know that incentives like the one announced today help get a physician to a community, but retention is a challenge as well so we’ll work closely with our partners to find innovative ways to retain physicians in those locations, increasing health care accessibility throughout the province.”
The province’s 2009 Physician Recruitment Strategy is paying off, with overall physician numbers increasing. More than 240 physicians are practising in Saskatchewan today than in 2007. While the number of physicians is increasing, more physicians are needed in rural and remote areas.
The Rural Physician Incentive Program is among a number of initiatives underway to address physician recruitment and retention:
* Training and residency seats have been added to the College of Medicine in Saskatoon.
* More international doctors are coming to Saskatchewan through a new assessment process (Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment, or SIPPA) that accepts applications from a wider range of countries.
* More physicians are being trained in rural Saskatchewan, recognizing that experiencing a rural lifestyle increases the chance that they will stay for a longer term.
More than 2,000 physicians are currently working in the province.