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Nova Scotians deserve access to a family physician now - not five years from now

Sept. 29, 2016

Dear editor,

As a family physician in a collaborative practice, I know first-hand the benefits of team-based care and the value of having nurse practitioners and family practice nurses in community clinics. My patients benefit from this type of collaboration every single day.

Premier McNeil’s announcement of funding for nurse practitioners and family practice nurses to join collaborative care teams was a positive announcement, and many physicians welcome this news. But the announcement was incomplete.

Physicians are an integral part of community-based health-care teams, yet the profession has not been engaged by either the government or the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) to help shape these teams.

Physicians want to work in collaborative settings with other health-care providers. However, we still don’t know what the province’s vision for primary care is, what the role of the physician will be in this model and how we can contribute to its success. These important pieces are missing from the story.

Unfortunately, the Premier didn’t announce any new physicians this week. The need is great: many of our communities face ongoing physician recruitment challenges.

I’m worried for patients who need care now but can’t find a physician. I’m worried for patients who have to visit emergency rooms to receive primary care, care that can and should be delivered in a community clinic. I’m worried for my colleagues with unmanageable patient loads; physicians who simply can’t take on any new patients, even though they want to help. I’m also worried for my colleagues who have been trying to retire for months – even years – but can’t do so without leaving their patients abandoned. And I’m worried for the young medical students and residents who want to practice in Nova Scotia but face obstacles.

While the provincial government and the NSHA plan a long-term solution for primary care, it’s obvious we also need a short-term solution that addresses these issues while working toward the goal of every Nova Scotian having access to a family doctor through a collaborative care team.

The announcement this week was a step in the right direction, and we need to take more steps, soon.

All Nova Scotians deserve access to a family physician now – not five years from now.

Doctors want to work with the province and the NSHA to plan the future of primary care. In order to change our health-care system for the better, we all have to work together. This is where the greatest opportunities lie.


Dr. Michelle Dow, BSc, MD, CCFP