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Sheila MacLean, who recently retired as the province's lone physician recruitment co-ordinator, says many national factors contribute to the ongoing challenge of recruiting doctors to P.E.I.
Sheila MacLean, who recently retired as the province's lone physician recruitment co-ordinator, says many national factors contribute to the ongoing challenge of recruiting doctors to P.E.I. - Jim Day

Sheila MacLean received plenty of professional praise but also heard considerable public criticism during her 13-year run as the province’s sole physician recruitment co-ordinator.

Among the accolades, the Canadian Association of Staff Physicians Recruiters once named her recruiter of the year and in 2017 gave her a national lifetime achievement award.

So clearly, she had a pretty good handle on her job, from which she retired earlier this year.

Still, getting doctors to work on Prince Edward Island is not a walk in the park. She feels compelled to remind Islanders of this fact.

“Recruitment is often open for criticism,’’ she says.

“Staff work very hard to fill positions. It is very complicated and complex.’’

MacLean, 57, of Kinross became the physician recruitment co-ordinator for the entire province after serving 20 years in health care in other capacities.

Early on, she noticed gaps that challenged her job of recruiting general practitioners, specialists and locums.

“One of them was that once a physician was recruited and they were put in the position, that was it,’’ she recalls.

“So, the province has been very proactive in working with their partners to create programs around community integration…to have cultural support services in place for families that are of different cultures. The physician community has been actively engaged as well as welcoming and integrating the physicians well.’’

Still, many barriers persist in getting all the desired and required doctors to hang their shingle in Prince Edward Island.

MacLean says several reasons contribute to many Islanders being without a family doctor. Fewer physicians choose family medicine than ever before. In addition, baby boomers are retiring and leaving large practices. Younger physicians do not want the large practices and long hours.

“Work-life balance,’’ she notes, “is a priority for millennials coming out today.’’

There is a larger number of females who practise differently than males. And young physicians do not want to fit into a mould of positions that are available.

“They want flexibility,’’ MacLean explains, “in systems that do not have flexibility.’’

As for the greater challenge of attracting family doctors to rural areas of P.E.I., she likens the situation to real estate.

“When a person is looking for a home, they have specific things they are looking for and will look until they find this home,’’ says MacLean.

“Physicians are the same. They are looking for specific things for themselves, their practices and their families and will continue to look until they find it.’’

She suggests communities may need to look at integration, offering incentives to the physician and his or her family. Some communities across Canada, she notes, are offering young physicians signing bonuses to help with student debt load.

MacLean says drawing doctors specializing in oncology, anesthesia and psychiatry to P.E.I. is an ongoing challenge.

“It’s not anything we’re doing wrong,’’ she stresses.

“There’s a lot of national issues that really affect our ability to be successful here.’’

Still, MacLean feels P.E.I. is “very competitive’’ with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in recruiting doctors.

However, targeting doctors in what she calls prime recruitment areas of England, Ireland and Scotland is an expensive endeavour.

“The challenge is, of course, that this requires additional funds for advertising and travel and licensure accommodations,’’ she says.

Shifting gears:

After spending the past 13 years as the province’s lone physician recruitment co-ordinator, Sheila MacLean of Kinross is looking to develop her own consulting business to assist companies and organizations looking for guidance around recruitment, such as succession planning, HR planning, and community engagement.

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