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Local physician training “will lead to success” for the City of Grande Prairie amid doctor shortages: Mayor Clayton

Amid the numerous closures of Emergency Departments across the Grande Prairie region in Fairview and Beaverlodge, the City of Grande Prairie has continued to emphasize the importance of attraction and retention of doctors in the Peace Country.

Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton says she sees the ED closures as a sign that the shortage of physicians is a very real fact of life in the north.

“I think that closures in some of our rural municipalities identify that the shortage of healthcare professionals is as dire as we assumed it is,” she says. “This council has prioritized the work in conjunction with AHS and the Chamber of Commerce and other municipalities to not only attract but retain the healthcare professionals in our region.”

Recently, AHS announced the city acquired seven new doctors over the past few months, the majority of whom are specialists. As a result, Clayton says the need for General Practitioners continues to be a top priority for council.

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“We’ve had some great success in regards to attracting specialists in the healthcare professional field but there is still a significant need for general practitioners,” she says. “We know that a large portion of our population doesn’t have a family doctor including myself and so with that, I think that’s something that is addressed at provincial levels and federal levels, we need to train more doctors.”

Clayton adds that convincing doctors to come to the city has proven to be a success; however, retention of physicians presents a new set of challenges.

“Getting them here, they’re typically happy to work in our region, once they’re here making sure they have what they need to have a happy quality of life is in regards to retention, [is] a priority that we’re dealing with currently,” she says.

Ultimately, healthcare training at the post-secondary level remains a key factor in boosting Grande Prairie’s physician needs, and work is currently underway between the City, NWP, and the University of Alberta to train medical students at a local level.

“The biggest piece being we have to train more healthcare professionals, so last week’s announcement in regards to the opportunities between Northwest Polytech and the U of A, training physicians locally is one of those solutions that will lead to success,” Mayor Clayton says.

Additionally, Clayton sits on a committee as a non-voting member that addresses the need for healthcare attraction for Grande Prairie’s rural neighbours. Clayton says the City is in a unique situation as the largest in the region, while still being subject to the challenges that come alongside being in a “rural” location.

“Our rural municipal neighbours are part of an RPAP program which deals with rural physician attraction, the City of Grande Prairie actually doesn’t qualify to be in that rural attraction piece,” she says. “As a mid-sized city in a rural location, rural to Edmonton, we sort of stand alone in that.”

Clayton says communication with AHS has continued and has resulted in some success, but ultimately without training at the post-secondary level, shortages will continue in the region.

“When the other larger cities such as Edmonton and Calgary have enough physicians, some of that overflow does come to Grande Prairie; however, as mentioned, we’ve done an excellent job in conjunction with AHS in recruiting specialists, and now the focus needs to be on training more General Practitioners,” she says. “With a shortage of General Practitioners in the city, I think there’s no shortage of clients that are waiting for a GP.”

Clayton says with the current training model, “around 10 physicians per year” will be coming out of school to work in the city, which the mayor calls “great news for the region.”

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