The president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) said he’s pleased to see the provincial government increase amount doctors receive from the Rural Physician Incentive Program, but added that it’s just one of many things needed to keep doctors in Saskatchewan.
Dr. John Gjevre welcomed the province’s decision to increase the incentive from $47,000 to $200,000, and said it would go a long way to helping recruit and retain doctors in rural and remote areas, but said retention and recruitment goes beyond dollars and cents.
“Yes, we do need the government’s investment here in rural and remote positions,” Gjevre said during phone interview from Saskatoon. “At the same time, we need to revitalize and reimagine how we have a physician-led, team-based approach to healthcare here in the province. It’s very difficult for solo practitioners to continue to work, especially in rural and remote areas.”
Gjevre said most rural and remote doctors are essentially small business owners, and like other small business owners, their expenses are going up. The increased incentive will help make rural practices more attractive, but doctors in those areas are overworked due to a high number of patients and large amounts of paper work.
Gjevre said this a barrier to keeping and recruiting doctors in Saskatoon and Regina too, but the problem is even more significant in smaller centres.
“When you don’t have enough of a critical mass of physicians to start with, it’s harder and harder for them to be all things to all people,” he explained. “Full service family medicine is being slowly … crushed under all the overwhelming pressures that are out there.”
Gjevre said physicians want to work in a place where they have the proper ‘tools of their trade.’ A big part of that is making it simpler to refer patients to specialists, if needed, or even just having specialists available in the first place.
He said the old model, where physicians are expected to do a little bit of everything, is outdated. In modern medicine, family doctors are just one part of a team, and many aren’t interested in working in provinces where they don’t have teammates.
“The family physician is like the quarterback of a football team,” Gjevre explained. “You can be the best quarterback in the world, but if you don’t have a team with you, it’s going to be awfully hard to move that ball down the field and get a touchdown.”
Gjevre said these changes would prevent many doctors from leaving, but added it could take years to implement them.
“We want to work with the government,” he said. “This is a wonderful first step. We welcome it, but we also need to move forward with primary healthcare reform.”
The Rural Physician Incentive Program increase will come into effect on April 1. The government has also increased the length of the program, meaning doctors will receive the incentive over five years instead of four.
The province has also expanded the incentive, meaning all rural and northern doctors who have been assessed through the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment Program can apply. Previously, only new graduates were eligible.
Premier Scott Moe announced the changes during the 2023 SARM annual convention and trade show.
“Saskatchewan is once again leading the nation with ambitious solutions to addressing the health human resource challenges that Saskatchewan, Canada, and the rest of the world are facing,” Moe said in a press release. “Our government recognizes the challenge of attracting doctors to rural and remote areas of the province, and this increased incentive will enhance our ability to attract more rural physicians and meet that challenge.”