Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but don’t say that to local officials who are continuing their push to attract more physicians to the Columbia Valley.

Leading the charge is Pete Bourke, executive director of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce who recently gave the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) an update on the physician recruitment program.

Bourke informed the board they are trying to attract long-term locums by attending conferences and trade shows. The other goal is to host tours for prospective general practitioners and plan welcome meetings for visiting locums, residents and students. Meanwhile, they are continuing to maintain the physician recruitment website at www.invermeredoctors.ca.

The current steering committee includes Al Miller, Clara Reinhardt, Danielle Armstrong, Dee Conklin, Dr. Billy Brown, Dr. Gareth Mannheimer, Dr. Stefani McLellan, Laura Slipp, and Pete Bourke.

Bourke said the current positions available in the Columbia Valley include a full-time, long-term locum at the Invermere Medical Clinic. The group is looking for someone to cover shifts for a five-partner family practice, as well as on-call coverage in the emergency room.

Also in need is a family/general practitioner for Chisel Peak Medical Clinic.

Bourke said Interior Health is seeking a full-time registered midwife to provide contract services in Invermere. Maternity services based out of Invermere include Windermere, Canal Flats, Shuswap and Akisq’nuk First Nations.

The program’s budget shows total income and expenses of $36,000 for 2024. The line item for conferences in Edmonton and Whistler shows $16,000, while the 2023 actual for this expense was $7,753.

During question period, Radium Mayor Mike Gray said the program is invaluable and expensive at the same time. He noted that he understands the payoff but it “seems like a lot of money” to recruit one or two people. Gray wanted to know if the Columbia Valley is faring better than other communities in trying to recruit doctors.

In hearing what’s happening in other areas where clinics are closing down and emergency rooms are limiting their hours, Bourke said the situation is better here. He acknowledged that trade shows and conferences are expensive to attend, but he asked the question: If you’re in a community where there is a shortage of doctors, is spending $8,000 on a trade show a good investment? 

“In a lot of ways it is. We run the program as lean as we can . . . we carry over as much funds as we can,” Bourke said. 

Miller responded: “I think keeping the pedal to the metal is very important because it’s a competitive industry out there.”

In a follow-up interview with the Pioneer, Bourke said their biggest need right now is long-term locums. 

“We have had moderate success with this over the past couple of years and it remains one of our top priorities.”

Bourke noted there are currently two full-time GP positions posted and there will be a third one posted soon. “With the support of this program, we aim to attract all three full-time GPs to our region this year.”

He pointed out that one of the strategies in 2024 is to attend a second conference/trade show that is BC-focused, in addition to attending the national Rural Medicine Conference.