Physicians thinking of relocating to places like Quesnel and Burns Lake now have even more of a financial incentive to make the move.
The provincial government and the B.C Medical Association (BCMA) announced Wednesday that physicians agreeing to accept one of 20 hard-to-fill positions in 17 communities across the province are now eligible for a $100,000 signing and retention bonus.
A physicians who takes one of the jobs will get $50,000 up front and another $50,000 a year later, but it's contingent upon the physician agreeing to stay in the community for three years. Seven of the 20 positions selected by the joint provincial government/BCMA standing committee on rural issues are located within Northern Health.
"From our perspective it means we have yet another tool in the toolbox to use to attract and retain physicians," Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins said. "This is in addition to a number of incentive programs that are not only offered on a provincial but a federal level."
In Quesnel the bonus is available to someone willing to fill the vacant internal medicine position, while in Terrace it's for an anesthesiologist. The other five are for general practitioners in Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Hazelton, Kitimat and Tumbler Ridge.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said she believes some of the positions could be filled very soon as this new incentive may push people who were considering the jobs already to make the leap.
"The belief is this is enough of an incentive that it would attract a doctor but part of receiving the $100,000 is a commitment to stay at least for three years," she said. "We believe that at least in some cases people will come and they will end up staying."
If a physician leaves before their three years is up, they must repay the bonus in full. BCMA president Dr. Shelley Ross said although three years is the minimum requirement, she hopes once the physicians get settled in they'll stay for the rest of their careers.
"We have found that if someone stays in a place for three years, by then they've often set down their roots," Ross said. "The kids are belonging to different things, the spouse is settled in in their job, they've made friends, they've joined things. We're looking for it to be a lifetime commitment."
Recruiting and retention go hand-in-hand and Collins said communities will benefit if the physicians choose to stay once their three years is up.
"Permanent is always great for the stability that it gives to the local medical community and the local health services so it's always our hope that someone will come and stay for the long term," she said.
The $100,000 figure was arrived upon by the committee because they believed it was lucrative enough to entice people and still allow for enough funds to offer it for 20 positions province-wide.
"A lot of the people we're trying to attract are new graduates who have a lot of debt from going through medical and residency," Ross said. "So [the committee] wanted to be able say, 'here, come work where you're needed and this will help go a long way to getting you out of debt.' "
The seven positions selected for the bonus in the north represent a fraction of the 48 vacancies Northern Health reported last month at is board meeting. MacDiarmid said due to funding limitations no additional positions could be added to the list.
"I know there are some places that are disappointed today because they weren't chosen and I'm sorry about that," she said. "But certainly I think there's some celebrations going in in some communities not too far from [Prince George]."
The standing committee, which included representation from rural doctors and health authorities, created the list by identifying positions which had been hard to fill in the past.
The 20 positions announced Wednesday are part of a pilot project, which MacDiarmid said could be expanded in the future should it prove to be successful.
"What we want to do is see how it works, if it's effective and if it seems like this is the best way to attract physicians to smaller communities then we'll continue with it," she said. "This is something we're trying, we're very optimistic about it and it would be something we would consider putting more resources into."