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Doctor Shortages

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Doctor Shortages

Perhaps there is a conspiracy to limit the number of doctors. A shortage of doctors allows physicians and specialists to demand higher fees and makes them a more valuable commodity in our health care system. Can the citizens really count on the College of Physicians and Surgeons to come up with ideas to solve the doctor shortage? The people need some concrete policies and a plan of action but this is slow in coming.

This column will propose five simple solutions to address the critical shortage of doctors in British Columbia.

First, priority medical school admission can be granted to applicants who agree to work a specific period of time in rural and under-serviced regions. The medical students can receive 100% student loan forgiveness if they complete this employment requirement after graduation. Once a doctor is established and has built roots in a community it is more likely that they will be committed to their patients and not leave these under-serviced regions.

Second, the government can allow for a market adjustment of doctors fees in rural areas. This will create a financial incentive for doctors to establish their practices in rural areas. All doctors can receive a professional salary or fee schedule for their work. In addition, doctors who work in rural or isolated areas can receive a bonus based on the supply and demand of doctors in their region.

Third, the provincial government can offer significantly more residency spots for foreign trained doctors. These doctors can take a short course that provides an orientation to the British Columbia health care system. In addition, doctors from non-English speaking countries can be required to pass an English language exam that focuses on necessary medical terminology.

Fourth, the government can increase the scope of practice of Nurse Practitioners. These nurses can perform most of the duties of a general practitioner but at lower cost. This will help alleviate the pressure on the health care system and allow hospitals and clinics to save a lot of money in salaries.

Last, the government can build a new medical school and increase the total number of medical school spaces. The key is to keep the doctors in British Columbia after they graduate. It might be a good idea to give BC residents a priority in medical school admission since they may have an intrinsic attachment to their home province. The government can also improve the working conditions, hours, and benefits of doctors. It may be best for this to be a long term goal when there is a sufficient supply of physicians and specialists.

The above solutions are simple ideas that can be put into practice. All that is needed is the will of our political leaders.

In regards to reducing wait lists and crowding at hospital emergency rooms and doctors offices; the government can set up an “online screening” system. Patients can initially talk to a nurse, doctor, or specialist on the internet via Skype, for example, to screen patients with superficial or serious medical issues.

Medical professionals can be paid for this instant online consultation. The internet and other forms of modern technology can be used to help improve the health care experience for British Columbians.

Alex Sangha, BSW (UBC), MSc (London School of Economics)
Registered Social Worker