May 19 was World Family Doctor Day, and BC Family Doctor Day in British Columbia. It reminded us that around the world there is a shortage of that central pillar of health care we know as Family Physicians. The President of the Australian Royal College tweeted that Family Doctors provide, “the best evidence of bang for buck AND health outcomes”.
Across Canada and close to home, the message is the same. More than 2,000 people gathered on the steps of the B.C. legislature on BC Family Doctor Day to give voice to their concerns about a lack of access to family doctors and to pressure the Horgan government to take action.
Following a meeting with Doctors of BC, Premier John Horgan said, “how important primary care is to our health-care system, as doctors provide us with the confidence that someone will be there to help us when we get sick”.
When family physicians are not available, it is a source of great anxiety and poor health outcomes. That’s why Bowen Island has come together around the issue of access to care, why a Foundation to organize and direct the health centre initiative was created, and why donations from across the community have flowed in to ensure the Bowen Island Community Health Centre’s success.
Frustration and overwork are well known among family physicians in Canada making them harder to find and recruit. The pandemic has only compounded this problem. In B.C. those without attachment to a family physician have doubled in B.C. in the last 19 years, growing to nearly 900,000 — about 20 per cent of the provincial population.
To resolve the problem the B.C. Government has recently invested in “team-based care in primary care networks, community health centres, Indigenous-led clinics, and urgent and primary care centres to expand access to public health care in this province” (John Horgan, May 19, 2022).
For Bowen Islanders, Premier Horgan’s words support a type or style of health care that is just what the Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation has been planning. When we are done building and begin operating as intended, our integrated, team based, Community Health Centre will reflect the key health solutions the government is advocating in policy and action. For this reason, and because the community has done the heavy lifting of planning, raising funds, buying land, building the location, and organizing a service, we are working to finalize government operating support.
Recruitment efforts encouraging, but still work to be done
The problem of recruiting doctors remains. We are in competition with health services everywhere. But there are three key features of what we can offer that gives us confidence that our recruitment of doctors and other team members will be successful.
First, we are designing a model of community health care in which professionals are supported by their colleagues — something health professionals have asked for and want. Just like the rest of us, doctors want to work collaboratively in a team with other disciplines.
Bowen’s only family physician, Dr. Sue Schloegl, makes this very clear when she says, “I am really looking forward to working with a team of health professionals with a common purpose.”
Secondly, Bowen Island is an idyllic environment and extraordinary community. Just scroll through our new website (https://bowenhealthcentre.com) which was built to help recruit health professionals to Bowen by focusing on the opportunity to build both a life and a practice in a unique rural community close to the city.
Finally, sometime next year, we will have a brand new, state of the art, building to house our new service. It will be the beginning of a new era of health care on Bowen, with new buildings, new people and new services. Those health professionals that join us will become the foundation of a wonderful story, tightly woven in the history of our community. Every health professional should want to be part of a story like that.
Our story and recruiting efforts are beginning to pay off. We have more than ten expressions of interest from doctors, as well as interest from nurse practitioners and a dental practice.
And Bowen residents: you have a role to play. As physicians are announced, we need you to consider attaching your family to those doctors and health professionals practicing at the Bowen Island Community Health Centre. And, if you know a doctor who might be interested in joining this new Community Health service, point them to our web page and tell them all that Bowen has to offer.