Covenant Health
This week's reflection

This week's reflection

I believe the second half of one's life is meant to be better than the first half. The first half is finding out how you do it. And the second half is enjoying it.

Frances Lear

Local physician recruitment committee successful in Bonnyville

June 05, 2015

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Two physicians  are working together in the operating room at Bonnyville Health Centre. Six new doctors with variety of skills will soon  be coming to the community.

Six new physicians have been recruited to Bonnyville in less than a year, thanks to efforts of the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee.

The Committee was established last spring when local physicians, residents, council members, the Bonnyville Health Foundation, the Bonnyville Health Centre’s Community Board, Covenant Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) recognized the need for innovative physician recruitment efforts in the community. Five local physicians had made the decision to leave their practice for personal reasons, and this group got together to ensure residents would continue to have access to the care they needed.

“We know that AHS, in partnership with the Town of Bonnyville, is always working to recruit physicians, but we also know it’s difficult and want to help,” says Bonnyville physician Dr. Hercu van der Watt.

Kim Fleming, AHS physician resource planner for the North Zone, says physician recruitment is a team effort.

“It’s the undertaking of a community,” says Fleming. “Recruiting and retaining physicians is most successful when local physicians and residents are involved. Doctors recruit doctors. With their help, success rates are much higher. Bonnyville is an exceptional example of this.”

Dr. van der Watt and his wife, Sharne, also a physician, arrived in Bonnyville about three years ago from South Africa. They understand first-hand what it’s like to move across the globe and set up a practice in a foreign place.

“There are so many things we don’t realize that international doctors have to go through,” says Alex Smyl, site administrator for the Bonnyville Healthcare Centre, which is operated by Covenant Health. “They can’t even get a pay-and-talk cell phone. It’s so simple, yet so complicated. Working with Dr. van der Watt has really helped us understand what they go through and what supports they need.”

On the verge of losing five physicians in the community, Dr. van der Watt says he saw how quickly it could potentially disrupt local coverage, including ER and obstetrical services.

“Two of the physicians who left practised low risk obstetrics with C-section privileges and, due to their departure, our obstetrics program was going to be greatly affected,” says Dr. van der Watt.

Under Fleming’s guidance, Dr. van der Watt got together with community members and formed a local physician recruitment and retention committee. A meeting was called with the Town and MD councils, the Bonnyville Health Foundation, the Bonnyville Community Board, local physicians, Smyl and Fleming.

“Kim informed me of a program through the Rural Physician Action Plan that provides information about how to form a community physician recruitment and retention committee, and from there, we built one,” says Dr. van der Watt.

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Members of the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment  and Retention Committee.

The committee set several goals; providing sustainable funds to assist with recruitment, supporting new physicians with immediate financial needs and initial expenses, helping them find temporary and permanent housing and establishing a welcome committee to help show them around town. The committee is also hoping to use some of their funds towards additional training for one of their physicians to perform C sections.

Less than a year later, it’s safe to say the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee is a success.

“We have recruited six new physicians to Bonnyville, two who are already practising and using some of the supports provided from our committee,” says Dr. van der Watt.

The other four physicians are expected to arrive later this year, after the completion of their immigrations process and assessment from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. One of them is an obstetrician and gynecologist, which is a rare recruit for rural communities.

Dr. van der Watt says this is largely due to the support and involvement of local physician Dr. Marne Hauptfleisch, who went above and beyond to welcome and show the specialist all that Bonnyville has to offer. He adds that with support from AHS, they were also able to train one of the current physicians to perform C-sections.

“It’s the lifestyle we sell,” says Dr. Hauptfleisch. “Bonnyville is a great community with great health care programs and offers work-life balance. Rural medicine is a scope of practice I think every doctor wants, because it’s as broad as you want it to be and you can adjust your scope to your specific strengths. Many doctors find that attractive.”

Because of the success of the Bonnyville Recruitment and Retention Committee, local care needs will continue to be met and residents have increased access to primary care and ER coverage.

“The welcoming committee needs special mention as it directly influenced the decision of two physicians to come to Bonnyville, despite being offered incentives by other rural communities,” he adds. “The physicians told us that by meeting the who’s who of Bonnyville made them feel welcome and that this is a community that cares about and is involved with health care.”

The committee has plans for what they are calling a Canadian roadshow, where they will travel to meet and hopefully recruit more Canadian graduates as well.

“We want to thank everyone who is involved and engaged in local health care. We are hoping to make Bonnyville a community where physicians will stay for the long term,” says Dr. van der Watt. 

Check out news coverage on a golf tourment in Bonnyville  to raise funds for doctor recruitment.