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Sky-high rents cause problems for doctor recruitment

The high cost of living in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek is hurting their ability to recruit medical professionals, according to Northern Health’s chief operating officer for the Northeast, Angela de Smit.
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The high cost of living in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek is hurting their ability to recruit medical professionals, according to Northern Health’s chief operating officer for the Northeast, Angela de Smit.

Northern Health is grappling with a huge shortage of medical professionals in the Peace.

“The main battle is the high cost of living,” said de Smit in an interview with Alaska Highway News.

Fort St. John and Dawson Creek have the second- and third-highest aparment prices in B.C., respectively, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“Because they are on provincial contracts, they are paid the same if they go to Houston, B.C. [where] they pay $600 a month for an apartment. As a new grad, when they have student loans and those types of things, they will say that is extra [money] in my pocket.”

De Smit said they do their best to pair new doctors with roommates to bring the cost of living down.

“It’s taking some innovation in terms of trying to encourage young individuals to come north,” she said. “Some of it is trying to work with them and other people in terms of — say, we have Sally who is a new person that started and she can take a roommate, or she wouldn’t mind moving from a one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom in order to reduce her rent.”

High rents are less an issue in Prince George she noted. That, plus additional amenities mean some medical professionals chose to move there instead.

The high cost of housing is just another obstacle when it comes recruiting nurses and other medical professionals to the Northeast.

“People have a perception that there is a high cost of living and it’s really cold,” de Smit said. “We do have a campaign to dispel those myths — although some of them are true.”

She said the worst thing that could happen is to have Northern Health invest in a new graduate to come to the Northeast, only to have them leave after six months.

Northern Health is trying to do more site visits with medical students to show them the benefits of working in the north.

“When you come north, you get a variety of experiences,” de Smit said. “We do need to have some of that messaging and that is usually through face-to-face or telephone conversations about the benefits of coming to the north.”             

dcreporter@dcdn.ca