Picture it: more than 800 doctors, medical students and their families at a Rural and Remote Medicine Conference. While Med students are spending most of their time in sessions, it’s between those sessions, when communities from all across the country are vying for their attention — hoping for an opportunity to share what makes their community worthy of consideration.
This is exactly what happened last week at the new convention centre in Halifax. All provinces and territories were there. Nova Scotia had a strong presence. Many communities from all across the province were there — each with a booth trying to make an impression, including me, representing Lunenburg County. Nova Scotia’s communities had an entire wall with lots of opportunities to make our pitch. Why is NOW Lunenburg County recruiting doctors, you might ask? Isn’t the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) doing that? Aren't our taxes taking care of that for us?
The answer is yes, they are, but as was laid out in the Ivany Report, they can’t do it alone. We can't rely solely on government to fix this problem. Every community is looking for doctors and like all communities across the province up their doctor recruitment game. We must do the same. We know that we can't increase our population by inviting people to our community if we're not also recruiting doctors. NOW Lunenburg County is focusing on attracting doctors to our community, not because NSHA isn’t going it, but because, as we've seen, they can’t do it alone.
I was able to meet and chat with more than doctors. Much of the real learning for NOW Lunenburg County happened as I got to chat with other communities such as Port Hawkesbury, Pictou County, Neil's Harbour and Guysborough County, to name a few. It was so inspiring to learn how they all got there and what their communities are doing to attract doctors. It’s amazing how communities are stepping up and what they’re doing to address our doctor shortage. Work that’s sadly often overshadowed by what isn't happening. Please allow me to brag a bit and give you just a small sampling of the amazing work communities across our province are doing to help attract doctors to their communities:
Port Hawkesbury sent a town councilor and his wife to this conference. Both work full time, but these busy parents of young children are also community champions. Hearing them talk from the heart about their community made me want to visit.
Pictou County’s business community and Hospital Foundation partnered and hired the most incredible champion whose job is to attract doctors. She was assisted by different community members, including a local doctor.
Neil’s Harbour in Cape Breton was there handing out Cape Breton oatcakes that were lovingly made by members of the community. Talk about how to warm your heart!
Guysborough County has contracted someone similar to me. Their community actually came together and bought a home that they're allowing doctors to stay in because, in a province where doctors can basically go anywhere, you have to sweeten the pot.
And as for us, NOW Lunenburg County, we have been gifted an executive-style two-bedroom apartment that we too allow visiting doctors to stay in as they test-drive our community. We’ve had residents, locums and medical students stay with us for up to two weeks. We’ve delivered hot soup on chilly nights, we've hosted our locums for lobster dinner, taken them for drinks, and even arranged picnics on the beach and provided some doctors bikes to use to explore our trails. In fact, we offered every student who dropped by our booth a chance to win a Lunenburg County Experience- Accommodation and activities designed with their interests in mind!
Just like with everything we do, we take time to evaluate and see if our effort was well spent. We know our Cross-Canada Tour, for example, was successful because we have welcomed people here who were inspired to explore Lunenburg County as a possible new community after sitting in our Boler Camper and having a discussion with me about the opportunities that exist here.
So, will any of the doctors we met at the Rural and Remote Medicine conference be joining us to live and practice in Lunenburg County? I am confident that many of the doctors we met will be settling somewhere in Nova Scotia. And I feel even more confident that at least one will be joining us in Lunenburg County.
We spoke a lot about lifestyle and about practicing medicine and needing a change. Folks from further away were excited by our real estate prices and for the chance to live on or near the water. Our safe communities, the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre, the French School, and the Lunenburg Academy of Performing Arts all made people lean into the conversation about Lunenburg County, including our growing entrepreneurship community, our proximity to other parts of the province, to beaches, the airport, and the city. Different people are drawn to different things. It's important we find what speaks to each person and highlight that for them.
An event like this doesn't happen without partnerships, and NOW Lunenburg County has nurtured some pretty good ones. For this doctor attraction event, the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore paid the significant registration fee for our booth. Doctors Nova Scotia supported our doctors’ attendance and the Town of Mahone Bay helped us attend as well. We were also very lucky to have Health Services Foundation Development officer Alison Clements and Dr. Cathy Kelly attend to help us make our pitch through our many conversations.
Perhaps our most important partnership is that with NSHA, as we work with our recruiter to help give potential new recruits an experience they won’t soon forget.
And as always NOW Lunenburg County’s work wouldn’t be possible without the support of The Lunenburg County Community Fund and our donors who contribute to our work through the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia. If you would like to be involved in our efforts to attract doctors, from hosting medical students, contributing to the next conference or baking cookies, contact me at 902-523-5725 or email email@example.com.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.