Neither the Nova Scotia Health Authority nor the Department of Health & Wellness will confirm a a claim about doctor recruitment made by Premier Tim Houston on April 4 in the legislature. 

Houston was replying to a question from NDP leader Claudia Chender who was concerned about the number of family doctors retiring and the lack of access to a doctor or nurse practitioner for a growing number of people — now at more 142,000 Nova Scotians. 

In his response to Chender, Houston said that “We have recruited 148 doctors over the past year for a net gain in the range of 74.”

If Houston’s statement is accurate, that’s a drop from the previous year (2021) when the province saw a net gain of 95 doctors, according to numbers released by the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment. That report, from April 1, 2021 to March 2022, showed 195 doctors (including family physicians and specialists) were recruited to Nova Scotia. However, the net gain was less because of physicians either retiring or leaving the province for various reasons.

The total recruitment numbers for the year 2022-23 (April to March) are “coming soon” according to Khalehla Perreault, a communications advisor with the Department of Health. 

The same message was provided to the Examiner by Brendan Elliott, a senior communications advisor at Nova Scotia Health. No timeline has been provided but last year’s recruitment report was released in June. It’s possible the numbers provided by Houston to the legislature in April may change slightly by then. 

Doctors Nova Scotia president Leisha Hawker has said reducing the paperwork burden on family doctors would help keep more doctors from leaving. The average age for family doctors is 55. The province established a bonus of $125,000 over five years to attract doctors (including specialists) to areas outside Halifax. It has spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns in Alberta and Ontario. 

Nova Scotia Health currently lists 225 “opportunities” or jobs available across the province for all types of doctors including pediatricians, psychiatrists, and oncologists.

At this moment, the province is in contract negotiations with both Doctors Nova Scotia and unions representing nurses and of course compensation is a key issue.

The total number of doctors who arrived in Nova Scotia in 2021 was up significantly from the previous three years, in which totals of 130, 128, and 127 were reported. 

According to the 2021 Physician Recruitment Progress Report, the percentage of internationally trained doctors who arrived rose from 20% to 30%. The number of residents trained at the Dalhousie Medical School who took permanent jobs here also increased from 41% to 53%. 

At the time of the report’s release last June, Kevin Orrell, the CEO of the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment, said the province would need to find an additional 100 doctors a year for the next 10 years to improve the health system. 

Orrell is now in charge of establishing a satellite campus of Dalhousie Medical School in Cape Breton. 

Pharmacists’ role

Against this back drop, on Wednesday the province announced another 14 pharmacies across the province will expand their services to provide clinics to see patients by appointment.

This should help relieve some of the anxiety for people without access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, especially families with young children who need immunizations. 

By the end of May, a total of 26 pharmacies will book appointments for minor ailments (rashes, ear ache, strep throat) and be able to refill prescriptions for chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD, asthma, and some heart conditions. 

These services are covered by MSI. The cost is $1.2 million to the province, and 5,000 people have visited since the first 12 clinics located in pharmacies opened this past February. 

Over the past 18 months, Nova Scotia pharmacists have seen their scope of care expanded to include assessing and prescribing for tick bites, urinary tract infections, and birth control. They also provide flu shots and COVID vaccinations. 

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. What I think is missing is the statistic on doctors who come to the province then move on or return to their previous place of residence.

  2. I like the premier and I think overall he is doing a pretty good job.

    Healthcare, especially reform, has him and others before him out of their area of expertice.

    We need a smart startup and business resquer to come in and run the health care system. Let govenment (read taxpayers) fund it.

    You know who we need and I don’t particularly like the guy and his style, but he knows how to save a business and run it extremely well .. we need Elon.

    1. Not sure Elon is the answer, we need to take the administration of NS Health Care out of the people’s hands it is now in; we expect these people to fix the problem THEY CAUSED, the definition of insanity. I am 100% sure of the of the following
      We need Doctors, Nurses, pharmacists, LTC workers and other health professionals; what we do have an over abundance of is politicians and civil servants at all 3 levels of government.
      The next politician in Nova Scotia to solve the health crisis would be the first. Image the “free time” they (the politicians) would have if they let someone who knew what they were doing in charge of NS Health Care. It would be a better use of money to have a private enterprise firm take charge of the administration as now all 3 parties in the decade have thrown millions of dollars at the problem …. no solutions, so just maybe money is not the issue; it is the management. You think private business would put up with performance like the NS taxpayer has had to endure (with the management) the last 20 years in NS Health Care, time to sweep it clean and start from scratch because it is not broken it is completed busted it!! Give the NS health professionals, taxpayers and all Nova Scotians the support and health care they need and deserve.