Paying too low to attract a Newfoundland-born doctor

Dr. Travis Barron is from Torbay and wants to practice medicine in Newfoundland and Labrador, but he says the province’s recruitment programs aren’t enough. (Submitted by Dr. Travis Barron/CBC)

A family doctor born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador wants to live and work in the province, but says the Department of Health’s recruitment program is not enough to bring him back from the Prairies.

Dr Travis Barron said it all comes down to salary because returning home to practice medicine would mean taking a big pay cut.

« I would be paid, depending on how you calculate it, about 40-60% less in Newfoundland, unfortunately, » Barron told CBC Radio’s The St. John’s Morning Show.

Barron is originally from Torbay, but works as a family physician in Brandon, Manitoba. and he immediately called Premier Andrew Furey’s office two weeks ago after hearing the premier’s personal call for doctors interested in working in the province to contact him directly.

Doctor shortages are wreaking havoc on the health care system, with a survey by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association suggesting that 125,000 people do not have a family doctor. A dozen rural emergency rooms across the province have been closed frequently since January, forcing people to travel – sometimes for hours – for emergency care.

Meanwhile, Barron said that within 48 hours of calling the premier’s office, he saw a Newfoundland and Labrador government number pop up on his caller ID. He said it was a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office who told him a recruiter would be in touch.

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The provincial medical association estimates that 125,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador do not have a family doctor. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

When the Department of Health recruiter called, Barron said he didn’t have the type of specific recruiters typically present, such as details about positions offered, salary and incentives. He said it was more like a survey, with the recruiter asking him what type of medicine he practices, why he wants to work in the province and what obstacles are holding him back.

Barron said the unscheduled 10-minute call was inappropriate – in the middle of his work day when patients and students are both demanding his attention.

Unhappy with the recruiting effort, Barron contacted CBC News to detail his experience, then received a third call after CBC requested an interview with Health Minister Tom Osborne about Barron’s experience – this time the assistant deputy minister responsible for provincial health in the Department of Health. Office of recruitment and retention of professionals.

Barron said the third call contained details of positions and salaries. However, he said there was no mention of recruitment incentives for doctors interested in working in rural and remote parts of the province in any of the calls.

“Certainly there could have been a better job of publicizing these incentives,” he said.

But at the end of the day, Barron said he wouldn’t move and it was because of the dollars and cents.

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A sign at the William H. Newhook Health Center stating that the emergency department is temporarily closed. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

« I graduated with almost half a million dollars in debt after medical school, which is very, very, very daunting, especially in today’s interest rate environment, » said Barron, adding that paying off debt is his biggest priority and another situation new doctors are also facing.

Barron said a job offer at Carbonear Hospital, similar to the one he’s currently making in Manitoba, could also discourage other doctors interested in working in the province because of his low salary.

« It’s actually the lowest paid doctor’s job I’ve ever seen. And I’ve spoken to the Department of Health about it, » he said, adding that the department informed him that the salary for this work had been increased.

But there is something else that keeps Barron away. His fiancée who is a physician assistant, similar to a nurse practitioner, could not work because work does not exist in the province.

Efforts need to be improved: health minister

Health Minister Tom Osborne said the province needs to do a better job of communicating incentives to attract doctors to the province and keep them there.

« The province has heard loud and clear that recruitment and retention efforts need to be improved, » Osborne said.

He says they have hired new staff in their recruitment and retention office and added additional resources to health authorities.

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An ambulance outside the emergency department outside the Bonavista Peninsula Health Center. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Meanwhile, Osborne said the cost of living and housing in Newfoundland and Labrador « is significantly lower than it is in Toronto, » and that’s something he thinks people future physicians should bear in mind.

Osborne says the province announced increased pay for doctors working in rural emergency rooms and earlier this year added incentives for family physicians who establish or join practices and have a guarantee program of salary.

Despite all of this, Barron sees a bigger issue that is impacting health care across the country.

He says it’s hard for a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, with fewer than 550,000 taxpayers, to keep up with more populous provinces like Ontario, with a population of 14 million.

« The real problem here, I think, is the provincial health care system model where, in reality, the provinces are so unequally disadvantaged. »

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