The government of British Columbia and the BC Medical Association are partnering to establish a new incentive that will help improve access to primary and specialist physician care in rural communities. The Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive, implemented last week, aims to fill 20 pre-designated family physician and specialist positions. The incentive will provide each physician with a one-time payment of $100,000 when they commit to a three-year return of service in 17 designated rural communities.
The 17 communities are Bella Coola, Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Clearwater, Cranbrook, Galiano Island, Hazelton, Kitimat, Nakusp, Pemberton, Port Alberni, Port Hardy, Princeton, Quesnel, Terrace, Tofino and Tumbler Ridge.
“Helping to fill much-needed rural family physician and specialist positions not only benefits local families, but also provides additional support for physicians and other health-care professionals in the community,” said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. “We often hear about the challenges rural doctors face, but having worked as a family physician in rural B.C., I can tell you that there are many rewards to rural practice from a diverse practice to a unique connection with patients and families.”
The Rural Physicians for British Columbia incentive was developed by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, a committee comprised of the government and the BCMA. The Joint Standing Committee develops programs that strengthen rural health care and encourage physicians to live and practice in rural and remote areas of the province. “This initiative will be a boost to many patients living in areas of the province that just don’t have enough physicians to take care of them,” said Dr. Shelley Ross, president of the BC Medical Association. “The BCMA is committed to providing British Columbians with the highest standard of health care, so if we can make it more attractive for physicians to set up practice in rural areas, we should.”
Participating physicians will receive $50,000 when they begin working in the community. The remaining $50,000 will be paid once they have completed one year of service. All applicants must commit to a three-year return of service and the full amount must be repaid if this commitment is not fulfilled. Primary and specialist physicians are eligible to apply for the incentive, as well as medical school residents who transition to full-time practice in one of the designated rural communities.
Other eligibility requirements include: being recruited to and residing in one of the eligible rural communities, moving from outside B.C. or from a non-rural community within B.C., residing and practising in the community for a minimum of nine months each year, full or provisional registration and licensure from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. , general practitioners must provide full-service family practice in addition to comprehensive care services required by the community, such as support for hospital emergency department, hospital inpatient care, support for residential care and outreach for First Nations or other communities.
Specialists must provide the full scope of specialty work as required by the regional health authority. The Joint Standing Committee worked with health authorities to select underserved communities based on those in most urgent need. The committee will provide oversight and incentives will be administered by regional health authorities.
In February 2013, government and the BCMA announced a suite of new physician incentives and supports to improve primary care services and ensure all B.C. citizens who want a family doctor are able to access one by 2015. The provincewide program, A GP for Me, is based on successful pilots in three communities, which have matched approximately 9,400 patients with family doctors since 2010.