Doctors willing to venture to rural B.C. communities could find themselves with $100,000 in their pocket.
An attempt to entice additional doctors into 17 communities across B.C., including Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd, will be made through a new incentive from the government of British Columbia and the B.C. Medical Association.
"Helping to fill much-needed rural family physician and specialist positions not only benefits local families, but also provides additional support for physicians and other healthcare professionals in the community," said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
The new program, which was implemented on March 13, is aimed at filling 20 pre-designated family and specialist positions.
When asked how he felt about the incentive program to try and bring in additional physicians to the area of Chetwynd, Mayor Merlin Nichols replied, "It can't hurt. There has been [a shortage of doctors in Chetwynd], we've got two new ones committed to arrive in July."
However, even with the new physicians that have already committed to going to Chetwynd, additional doctors would still be helpful.
"We need another one I would think," said Nichols.
This means when doctors commit to a three-year return to Bella Coola, Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Clearwater, Cranbrook, Galiano Island, Hazelton, Kitimat, Nakusp, Pemberton, Port Alberni, Port Hardy, Princeton, Quesnel, Terrace, Tofino and Tumbler Ridge they will receive $100,000.
"We often hear about the challenges rural doctors face, but having worked as a family physician in rural B.C., I can tell you that there are many rewards to rural practice from a diverse practice to a unique connection with patients and families," explained MacDiarmid.
The Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues developed the Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive. Both government and the BCMA make up the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues. The committee develops programs such as the incentive program to strengthen rural health care and help encourage physicians to take up their practice in a rural or remote area in the province.
"This initiative will be a boost to many patients living in areas of the province that just don't have enough physicians to take care of them," said Dr. Shelley Ross, president of the BC Medical Association.
"The BCMA is committed to providing British Columbians with the highest standard of health care, so if we can make it more attractive for physicians to set up practice in rural areas, we should."
Those doctors who do choose to take part in the incentive program will receive $50,000 when they begin working in the community. After the physician has completed a year of service they will receive the other $50,000 from the incentive.
If the physician does not complete the three years, then he or she must return the full amount of the money.
Those who are able to apply for the incentive are primary and specialist doctors, but medical school residents who transition to full-time practice in one of the areas mentioned above and also able to apply.
"I think if a young doctor coming out of school with half a million dollars in debt, it can't help but be attractive. It may not work for all of them, but I'm sure it's going to help," said Nichols.
Those who choose to take part in this incentive program must fulfill certain requirements.
According to the statement released by the B.C. Government, general practitioners must make full-service family practice available.
In addition, they must also complete comprehensive care services required by the community, such as support for hospital emergency department, hospital inpatient care and support for residential care and outreach for First Nations or other communities. The specialists must also provide the full range of specialty work as required by the regional health authority
Tumbler Ridge could not be reached for a comment by deadline.