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'We will be down to one doctor': Saskatchewan offers $200K bonus for rural physicians

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The Government of Saskatchewan is offering physicians a $200,000 bonus to work in rural areas.

The bonus will be spread out over five years to fill positions where recruitment has been a challenge.

Premier Scott Moe announced the boost to the rural physician incentive program during the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) on Wednesday.

Moe called it the “most ambitious and aggressive” incentive program in Canada.

It marks a significant increase over the previous incentive of $47,000 the province was offering. Another change to the program is that a physician must sign on for five years instead of four.

Pamela Bartlett is hopeful the program will address the healthcare shortage in her community of Enniskillen, located in southeastern Saskatchewan.

“It’s crisis in our area right now,” Bartlett, who works as the RM’s chief administrative officer, told CTV News.

She says nurses are working double shifts because there’s no backfill.

“We’ve had so many overtime hours, and nursing burnouts. It’s been quite a concern in our community,” Bartlett said.

“Just as of last week, we found out that two out of our three doctors are leaving. So we will be down to one doctor.”

To fill the healthcare gaps in remote communities, Saskatchewan’s Health Minister Paul Merriman announced plans to hire physician assistants.

Merriman compared physician assistants to army medics.

“They can do almost everything that a doctor can do,” Merriman told the crowd at the SARM meeting.

A doctor must sign-off on the physician assistant’s treatment, but Merriman said that sign-off can be done virtually — which would be ideal for rural communities.

“This is something that's new to Saskatchewan. It's being done in Manitoba. It's being done in Ontario. And we're working very hard to get those physician assistants specifically to go out to rural Saskatchewan, and also work in our emergency rooms, because that's exactly what they're trained for,” he said.

While Bartlett is optimistic in the government’s recruitment ideas, she worries about retention.

“Because it’s not just about recruitment it’s also about retention. So, yes, we can get them here, but how can we keep them here?” Bartlett told CTV News.

The premier believes once a healthcare worker comes to Saskatchewan, they’ll stay.

“Loves the community, loves the people and absolutely wants to stay there because their kids have started school,” Moe told reporters, following his announcement.

The new rural physician incentive program opens April 1. 

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