By 2004, a family doctor was hard to come by in Vegreville.
The community was down to three physicians, a drastic decrease from a peak of eight in previous years. New physicians were difficult to recruit, and it was becoming difficult to retain the existing physician group. Those doctors who remained were not accepting new patients. Many community members had begun seeing physicians outside of the community, which started to impact local businesses.
Following a presentation from the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP), the Mayor of the time agreed to spearhead a local committee, whose objective was to implement a physician recruitment and retention plan for Vegreville.
The first meeting of the committee took place in March 2005, and after several months decided to establish a new four physician clinic and a physician incentive program. Following the opening of the clinic and some initial recruitment successes, the committee disbanded. Soon after, old issues began to re-surface.
Physicians again began to come and go from the community. By 2011, Vegreville was again down to three physicians. Frustration ran high in the community, and many residents relayed concerns to Council that they felt not enough was being done about the situation. In the spring a community meeting was called, including representation from RPAP and Alberta Health Services, with the intention of re-establishing the "physician attraction and retention committee".
The newly-established Vegreville Region Physician Attraction and Retention Committee included broad representation from both Vegreville and the County of Minburn. Following the closure of the new clinic in July 2011 prompted the decision to support a single clinic, housing up to six physicians. With a new focus on physician attraction and retention, a variety of initiatives were undertaken to bring physicians to Vegreville, and keep them after they arrive.
The committee has learned the importance of staying connected with physicians and their families throughout their decision and placement, ensuring successful integration into the community. They also help physicians become active community members, including them in the recruitment process to help ensure a good fit into the medical practice. Once recruitment goals are met, the committee remains active planning appreciation and recruitment events such as appreciation barbeques and Medical Skills Weekends.
The attitude of the community has significantly changed from a position of anger and frustration to a positive outlook.
“The community participation has helped Vegreville to not only recruit but retain physicians,” says Vegreville physician, Dr. David Strydom. “It continues to impress me how welcoming and supportive all members are to physicians.”