City looks to Northern Ontario School of medicine for future prospects
A Thunder Bay family doctor is postponing his retirement because he fears too many of his patients will become health care orphans.
After almost 60 years of practising in Thunder Bay, Dr. James Colquhoun thought this would be his last week at the Port Arthur Health Centre.
"Three young doctors were joining our group, we thought,” he said. “As it turns out, so far we've only got one. I just don't feel like deserting [my patients] until I get somebody to look after them."
Sally Marsh is one of those Thunder Bay residents who don’t have a primary care provider.
"The only family member in my family that has a doctor is my dog,” she said.
Since Marsh’s doctor retired in November, she said she resorts to calling a veterinarian acquaintance for urgent medical advice.
Marsh said she prefers that to facing lineups at the walk-in clinic.
The city of Thunder Bay's family physician recruiter said new doctors are on the way, but they generally accept far fewer patients — and it takes at least three new doctors to replace each one who retires.
Colquhoun said he believes Thunder Bay's family doctor shortage will improve in the next few years, as more students graduate from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Family medicine is one of the only specialties where Thunder Bay is short of doctors. He noted that the new Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has drawn specialists in other areas, like cardiology.
Not taking as many patients
Norine Howardson, Thunder Bay’s family physician recruiter for the Thunder Bay, said recruiting efforts are yielding some good prospects, but the shortage is not likely to improve soon.
Finding doctors who are willing to take on patient loads of 2,000 to 3,000 is challenging, as many new doctors want more work-life balance and opt not to shoulder the patient loads of doctors who have been practicing for decades. Typically new doctors accept between 500 and 1,000 patients, which means it can take three to six new doctors to replace one older doctor who retires.
Howardson said she knows of at least one new family doctor who will be coming from the medical school in the next year.
When that happens, Colquhoun will likely rest easier knowing his patients are getting the care they need.
"I've been here for a long time,” Colquhoun said. “I had a guy in my office yesterday who was 56 years old. And I delivered him. You know, I've got a lot of people in my practice that I delivered and been looking after for years and years."