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Province offers cash incentives to entice graduates to work as family doctors

Doctors' association says it wasn't consulted about plan
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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix at a news conference in Victoria on May 10, 2022. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

About 175 new family practice resident graduates are being offered lucrative contracts, loan forgiveness, and $25,000 signing bonuses if they sign on by September to work as family doctors in B.C.

“I think people want action and this is action,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said in an interview Monday.

At a time when one in five British Columbians or close to one million say they do not have a family doctor, Dix said the province is stepping up with urgency to give new doctors the contracts many want to stay and work in the province.

“This demonstrates our willingness to move quickly to attract future physicians to family medicine,” said Dix.

Interested residents who sign on to a full-time contract will immediately receive a “new to practice” contract valued at $295,457 for the first year — what was originally a second-year rate.

The new residents will also receive a $25,000 signing bonus as well as a phased medical training debt-forgiveness plan — up to $50,000 for the first year and up to $20,000 in medical training debt forgiveness for each year of two through five. Dix called the debt forgiveness one of the most significant incentives.

“We wanted to encourage them as much as possible to to consider full-service family practice, and that’s why this proposal was made,” said Dix.

The new contracts don’t solve every problem in B.C.’s health-care system with respect to family practice but it addresses some of the major ones for new doctors in a timely way, said Dix.

“We wanted to make a strong statement now to family practice doctors that this is going to be an area that sees change and we want them to see that change when they make their decision,” said Dix.

The incentives are available to Canadian and international medical graduates — both those graduating the two-year ­residency program in 2022 this summer as well as those who have graduated in the past 12 months.

After graduating medical school, people are matched with residency programs. University of B.C.’s medical school residency training program produces about 400 resident graduates a year — about 175 in a two-year program are certified under the College of Family Physicians of Canada as family physicians and the remainder in multi-year programs for specialities certified under the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, such as surgeons, dermatologists or psychiatrists.

The 175 family resident graduates were sent an invitation to a Health Ministry meeting where the incentives were offered on June 15.

About 40 students, some of them days away from graduating, attended the meeting.

Saanich family physician Dr. Jennifer Lush said graduates and Doctors of B.C. didn’t expect the contract offer. “This contract was rolled out with no consultation; Doctors of B.C. was completely blindsided by it.”

International graduates were not included in the original proposal, something Lush called “discriminatory,” but the Health Ministry has since considered the feedback from the meeting and international resident graduates are now eligible.

The contract offer has yet to be sent out through the Doctors of B.C. and Resident Doctors of B.C. “They’re trying to force new grads into signing these contracts,” said Lush. “I think it’s a PR move, right? Adrian Dix just wanted to be able to say he signed so many new doctors to contracts.”

It’s more typical and sustainable for new grads to try what’s called locum positions — short-term positions at various clinical practices covering permanent family doctors for vacations or assisting alongside them — before settling on the location and kind of practice that best suits them, said Lush.

“It would make a lot more sense to give these new grads time to get some real-world experience before you force them into signing a contract,” said Lush.

The Health Ministry keeps doing “crisis management,” said Lush. “They keep throwing out these randomly thought-up, Band-Aid solutions.”

Harry Gray, executive director of the Resident Doctors of B.C. which negotiates collective agreements for residents, said there are many options for new resident grads including locums or contracts or fee-for-service, but the model of a doctor taking over a solo family practice is gone.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com