In the spring of 2014, the Bonnyville community was facing a crisis. The loss of five physicians in quick succession left the community facing potential service disruptions, ER coverage shortages, and the possible closure of the obstetrics program.
At the urging of Alberta Health Services, and with the assistance of RPAP | Health Workforce for Alberta, the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee was formed.
According to committee member, Catherine Sandmeyer, a presentation by Dr. Hendrik van der Watt to the committee—which consisted of representatives from the Town and MD councils, Bonnyville Health Foundation, Bonnyville Health centre administration, and local physicians—was the first step in developing a comprehensive physician attraction and retention strategy.
“I don't think we knew the intricacies of immigrating to a country. In a Power Point presentation, [Dr. van der Watt} explained, literally right down to the dollars and cents, all the difficulties of leaving the country and arriving in two suitcases,” Sandmeyer explained. “Dr. van der Watt made it quite clear to us that the problem had specifics we could sink our teeth into.”
The presentation outlined a formal structure of recruitment and retention that could be undertaken, and several goals were identified that were critical for success. These goals included financial support for recruitment activities, loans and accommodation support for physicians and locums, physician training in C-sections, a welcome committee for physicians, and on-going physician appreciation activities
Once implemented, these efforts had a dramatic impact. Bonnyville went from a shortage of five physicians in 2014, to recruiting six new doctors, in less than two years. According to Dr. van der Watt, full credit for the turn-around belongs to the committee and all the stakeholders.
“The fact that that we contacted the town, we contacted the MD, we told them, “Listen, we need help, we need resources, we're going to go into crisis mode if we're not able to attain this”, and they immediately came on board, provided the support, [and were] willing to listen, went above and beyond what we asked of them.”
In recognition of its well-rounded approach towards attracting and retaining physicians, the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee was selected as the 2015 recipient of the Alberta Rural Community Physician Attraction and Retention Award.
The Alberta Rural Community Physician Attraction and Retention Award, sponsored annually by the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP), was created in 2007 to recognize rural Alberta communities that have best developed innovative and collaborative approaches resulting in successful physician attraction and retention. This community engagement work is an integral part of RPAP’s comprehensive and integrated recruitment, attraction and retention programming.
RPAP | Health Workforce for Alberta is an independent, not-for-profit company funded by the Alberta Ministry of Health. Established in 1991 by the Government of Alberta, RPAP supports the ongoing efforts of Alberta’s rural physicians, their families and communities to improve the quality of rural health care.
The Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA) is the co-sponsor of the 2015 Alberta Rural Community Physician Attraction and Retention Award. The AWNA assists and ensures its members publish high quality community newspapers. The Association achieves this by prioritizing education, marketing and fellowship.