Mark Clairmont |

MUSKOKA — Three new international doctors could be practising in south Muskoka late this summer or early fall.

The three women who live in Canada — two are from India and one from Egypt — are part of a provincial program called Practice Ready Ontario (PRO) intended to recruit foreign-trained Canadian physicians.

Not an uncommon practice in rural communities now.

Earlier this month Muskoka and its surrounding areas played host eight candidates in 10 tours of Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Port Carling and Sundridge.

Three were offered positions with the Cottage Family Health Team in south Muskoka — two in Gravenhurst and one at the Bracebridge Medical Arts Centre, said Lorraine Johnston, CFHT executive director.

They must first complete a 12-week clinical assessment outside Muskoka. One of them already has that placement location, says Dr. Keith Cross, of BMAC, who took part in the tours, lunches and dinners.

He said the interviews were to ensure their “skill-sets were appropriate” and that they are “well-suited” to the area.

The tours included doctors, Family Health Teams and staff at municipalities, added Louise Picot, the communications person with the Muskoka and Area Ontario Health Team, which facilitated the tours.

The MAOHT is 5,000 square kilometres with multiple municipalities in Muskoka and the surrounding area of East Parry Sound. It covers an area of 145 kms wide (as far east as Algonquin Highlands and west to parts of Georgian Bay) and 120 kms from Kilworthy north to Burk’s Falls.

The MAOHT-facilitated tour included Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Port Carling and Sundridge (north of Huntsville) — which is located between Burk’s Falls and South River.

According to the province, the program launched last July to remove work barriers for them will see 50 new doctors working in Ontario by this year.

It says international medical graduates are permanent residents and Canadian citizens who have completed their initial medical degree (MD) outside of Canada.

“Many immigrant IMGs are highly skilled and experienced clinicians with years of medical practice in their home countries.”

For an IMG with credentials verified and having completed the Medical Council examination, all that stands in the way of their entering practice is to successfully complete a ‘practice ready assessment’ (PRA). This evaluation usually takes about three months.

Doctors must also make a three-year commitment to stay as part of a “return to service” contract.

The names of those offered positions have not yet been announced by CFHT, says Johnston.

Two more doctors in Gravenhurst will help after Dr. Graeme Gair retired recently.

He was replaced by Dr. Reginald Cipriani, who however opted not to stay and left earlier this month.

Gair is coming out of retirement, returning to practice late this month for the summer until the pair of physicians finishes their placements.

The three doctors are big boost for south Muskoka, which has thousands of residents reportedly not signed up to a primary care provider. That number is estimated at 4,000 district wide.

In south Muskoka Cross says there are 17 family doctors and six nurse practitioners working at BMAC and the Archdeacon Clinic in Bracebridge and the Gravenhurst CFHT. Two of the nurse practitioners are in Wahta and in Port Carling — where Dr. Paulette Burns closed her small practice last year.

Dr. Liang Ying Liao has a separate private practice at the north end of Gravenhurst.

Those numbers contrast with the 48 who signed a letter this winter calling for changes to Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s hospitals plan. But their alternative ‘Care Closer to Home’ proposal included input from retired doctors or those who may have kept their medical licence, but aren’t practising.

Doctors can carry a patient load as high as 1,500 patients, said Johnston. But typically it’s 1,200 or more likely 1,000.

In Huntsville, the town has set aside $60,000 to recruit doctors. That is not uncommon, especially today. In the early 2000s Gravenhurst paid $10,000 to doctors to move there.

Across the country it’s the same story.

Saskatchewan has a similar PRO program as mid-west rural communities struggle for four years to keep doctors who retire or move on, Suzanne Kuchinka mayor of the village of Macoun in southeast Saskatchewan said in a Canadian Press story today.

A University of Regina report this month in the province said the losses not only create staffing shortages, but also affecting morale among health-care workers.

Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers spoke of an internationally-trained doctor who moved to New Brunswick when she couldn’t get enrolled in program like PRO.

“It’s a real challenge. I’d love to see how we can recruit more doctors to our communities and maintain the ones we have.”

The report said disruptions and reduced hours caused patients to seek hospital care elsewhere, which could result in longer wait times in larger hospitals.

The report also said 49 per cent of Saskatchewan’s doctors were internationally trained in 2022.

Kuchinka said “many internationally-trained doctors use smaller communities as stepping-stones.”

Nurses are also feeling the squeeze with out-of-province hires getting contracts that offer higher wage and first priority for overtime shifts.

Aalbers advocates for more nurse practitioners, which the province says will see it at 25 more next year.

The university report also noted lack of rural transportation, citing the loss of provincial bus service in 2017.


Cross said while MAHC’s hospitals debate did come up in discussions, it wasn’t dwelled on with the eight visiting physicians.

The recruitment yet beggars the question about Muskoka being able to entice medical personnel without larger hospitals.

Cross, a UofT grad, says medicine has changed a lot since he began his career in Muskoka filling in summers on ER shifts in 1977 before taking over Dr. Lyle Black’s practice (today BMAC) when he died in 1985.

He said COVID has changed his practice (he’s semi retired) with more people moving fulltime to Muskoka. Or at least more from the GTA working remotely from home.

In addition are those who move here permanently who are aging in place here.

Cross, who “collects a cheque” from MAHC while working on internal hospital committees, admits to a “conflict of interest” when talking about the divisive north-south divide.

But does say Huntsville is “more accepting” of the latest proposal. Admittedly there has been less chatter — even online.

On the subject of “hospitalists” vs. medical clinicians only, he says a “blended model” where family doctors still see patients in hospital in the morning before going to see others booked in at their own clinic works best for him.

“We’re rural enough not to do that. I’m old school to do that.”

Finally on the hot topic of meetings between MAHC and south Muskoka doctors, he said the physicians are meeting this week to draft up a response to 36 beds at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital, which is expected to be negative according to their gut responses last week.

And the two opposing side are due to meet early in May for another face-off.


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