The drought of trained health professionals may be easing, according to the head of human resources for Northern Health.
David Williams, vice president of human resources for the health authority said Northern Health had significant success in filling positions for health professionals in 2017. However, he said, challenges still remain.
Postings of health professionals that have been unfilled for more than 90 days are classified as "difficult to fill vacancies" according to a human resources report presented by Williams to members of the Northern Health board on Monday. So far in the 2017/18 fiscal year, of the 2135 total jobs posted by the health authority, 192 (9 per cent) are either classified as "difficult to fill" or have been unfilled for less than 90 days. Of these postings, 71 are for registered nurses. Other professions such as physiotherapists, nurse practitioners and ultrasound technologists, comprise a large proportion of unfilled vacancies.
The health authority has long faced difficulties in finding trained staff throughout the region, both in rural and remote regions as well as in more urban areas, such as Prince George.
According to the report, the health authority managed to fill six full-time vacancies for ultrasound technologists in the last year, while 474 registered nurses were hired since March 31st of last year.
Williams acknowledged that there were a significant number of physiotherapist positions that have been difficult to fill, but he said that the length of time it has taken to fill these positions has been declining since 2015.
"The number of vacancies has been reduced over the years," Williams said.
A report prepared by Northern Health two months ago stated that three permanent full-time physiotherapists had been hired since December of 2016. That report also stated there were four permanent full-time and three permanent part-time postings open as of December 2017.
The health authority has focused recruiting efforts on post-secondary education institutions in the north. UNBC, traditionally a key partner in recruiting efforts, has been a key source of recruits. In the last year, the health authority hired 81 UNBC nursing students immediately after graduation.
The health authority has also been working with Northern Lights College in Fort St. John to establish a new nursing program. The program, which would be offered in collaboration with UNBC, would be a two-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing. If the program is approved by the provincial government, enrolment would begin in 2020, and there would be 16 graduates per year.
Williams said recruiting efforts have also focused on working with local governments, First Nation health authorities and healthcare unions. Northern Health currently employs a staff of seven recruiters, including one recruiter focused entirely on nursing students.
The report also noted the recent hire of two physiotherapists, one in Prince George and the other in Prince Rupert, two nurses in Chetwynd, one specialty nurse and sonographer in Fort St. John. The nurses and sonographer were health professionals hired from the United States.