Old problems, new ideas: Improving primary health care in rural, remote Saskatchewan

Bales in winter storm 2012-11-04

“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Mark Twain

Okay, there’s not much we can do about the weather here in Saskatchewan. But improving work-life balance for physicians is a different story. It just depends on how open-minded we choose to be.

This past April, our province’s physician recruitment agency, SaskDocs, and the Saskatchewan Medical Association conducted three surveys to understand more about what past physicians, new physicians, and medical learners like (or not) about working in Saskatchewan.

Six out of 10 physicians who left the province indicated they were not satisfied with the weather.  Physicians were least satisfied with their work life balance and call rotation.  Nearly half of ‘medical learners’ who responded (45%) cited work life balance as the most critical factor in choosing a practice location, followed by opportunities for a spouse (13%).

If work life balance is key to recruiting and retaining physicians, let’s stop doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results – Einstein’s definition of insanity. It’s time to move past thinking that the only answer to improving primary health care in rural areas is more physicians. Haven’t we learned that continuing to offer doctors extra incentives, like signing bonuses, to set up practice is, at best, only a short-term band-aid solution?

Other jurisdictions are thinking and acting more creatively, using a broad complement of health professionals – like advanced practice nurses and paramedics –to prevent the doctors they do have from burning out unnecessarily.

The Collaborative Emergency Centres (CEC) model this province is exploring offers a great example of team-based primary health care and improving the work life balance physicians – just what past, current and future doctors Saskatchewan are looking for.

We may not be able to change the weather. But we can change the way we meet people’s needs for primary health care.  The first step is to stop letting old thinking and ideas get in the way.

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