As doctor shortages plague communities throughout the country and right here in the Kootenay, one local walk-in clinic has secured the physicians they need.
Peggy Aitken manages the Kootenay Lake Medical Clinic at the Chahko Mika Mall. She has managed to recruit five doctors in the past year taking them from two physicians and a lot of locums to seven permanent doctors in total. The yearlong process was a challenge.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I don’t think we knew how hard it was going to be,” Aitken said. “Any lead I got, I would follow up with a phone call or an email.”
Recruitment efforts included lots of word of mouth along with traditional listing of the jobs available. Social media played a role as well.
“We Twittered. We Facebooked. We did whatever we could to get the word out,” she said.
Aitken said the new doctors at her clinic were attracted by the fact that they don’t have to manage the practice. The responsibility of hiring staff, managing paperwork and handling billing gives them flexibility and the ability to focus solely on patient care. This system attracts semi-retired doctors.
The Kootenays also attracts physicians who love the outdoors and doctors with young families are interested in small town living with the benefits of the big city.
“Nelson’s a big draw and that’s definitely what I marketed,” Aitken said. “We’re competing with every other community out there. They all have their spiel.”
Aitken explained financial incentives weren’t part of the draw. They aren’t able to offer northern living bonuses because they’re a private clinic.
When Aitken hears of challenges recruiting physicians, she reflects on that unique situation — being a non-physician owner alongside Paul Lamoureux of a private clinic. As a businesswoman, this is the first time she hasn’t had to worry about attracting customers.
“They’re lined up outside my door every morning,” she said.
Her worries lie in being able to give her customers what they need — medical help.
“The biggest risk we took when we bought that clinic is we didn’t have the doctors and we knew that. We had no other choice but to go and find doctors in order to keep our business going.”
With more physicians serving the Kootenay Lake Medical Clinic, much has changed from the first year they were open seven days a week when they struggled with only two physicians and locums filling in. Tracking people through their doors shows that previously, 10 to 30 patients a day were leaving due to long wait times. Aitken is thrilled that this is no longer the case.
“We can pretty much see everyone that comes through the door,” she said.
Some people still expect a three to four-hour wait at the clinic not knowing that there is a full complement of doctors. Aitken said they are down to wait times of an hour or less.
People knowing the system arrive to stand in line around opening time and those first dozen to 20 patients can most often be seen within that first hour, she explained.
In addition to shortened wait times, a full compliment of doctors allows patients needing a longer visit for their medical issues aren’t “rushed through.”
Now that the Kootenay Lake Medical Clinic has a full compliment of doctors, Aitken can ease off her recruitment and focus on long-term planning for her business.
“I get to take some breaths and boy is that nice,” she said.