Doctors Manitoba urge province do more to attract, retain physicians amid staff shortage

Physician advocacy organization Doctors Manitoba is recommending five steps to government the group hopes will help the province recruit and retain staff in a health-care system that continues to lose workers.

The province should try to lure in more physicians by expanding training, making recruitment efforts more straightforward and coming up with financial incentives to smooth out-of-province candidates’ transition to Manitoba, Doctors Manitoba said in a news release Friday.

Doctors Manitoba is holding a joint news conference at 11 a.m. with the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to provide more details on recruitment and retention efforts in northern and rural Manitoba.

The organization has consistently raised alarm over continued staff shortages, particularly of nurses but also physicians and allied health-care positions, amid pandemic burnout and an associated departure to the private sector or away from health care entirely.

“Manitoba has one of the biggest physician shortages in Canada, and this is hitting particularly hard in many rural, northern and Indigenous communities,” Dr. Candace Bradshaw, Doctors Manitoba president, said in a statement. ​

“It must be a top priority to recruit and retain more doctors, and this is going to require an ​all-hands approach if Manitoba is going to succeed in an intensely competitive national and global environment.”

Her colleague and former Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Kristjan Thompson, an emergency room physician at St. Boniface Hospital, this week described considering quitting for the first time amid “devastating” impacts he’s seeing in the workplace tied to staffing shortages.

This week, Doctors Manitoba released a report suggesting the province has the lowest number of family doctors per capita in Canada and ranks third-last in the number of physicians overall per capita.

The group says two in five Manitoba physicians are planning to retire, leave or reduce clinic hours in the next three years.

The recommendations out Friday include addressing burnout, which the organization terms “the single biggest risk to physicians leaving practice,” by cutting down their administrative work, reviewing on-call expectations and improving engagement.

Doctors Manitoba also suggests freeing up physicians to spend more time on patient care and with other doctors, seeking care guidance.

The province should also focus on offering better-quality peer support and mentorship, the group says, as well as assist doctors with infrastructure-related costs and enhance the physician retention program.

Manitoba could also improve how it supports communities and their chambers of commerce in recruitment and retention of physicians and their families.

The recommendations stem from a rural health summit attended by more than 100 doctors, health-care system executives and community or business leaders. A followup survey of members of Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce elicited 450 responses that supported the suggestions, Doctors Manitoba said.

Both organizations are offering to advise government on next steps.

“Accessible health care is important to all Manitobans, including our members, and reliable, quality care is essential to rural and northern economies,” Chuck Davidson, Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. ​

“Health care is indeed an economic issue, because without a strong health-care system, we simply can’t support the attraction of new residents, we can’t promote tourism with confidence, and we restrict Manitobans’ ability to age in place.”