What the province is doing to attract more health care workers - InfoNews

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What the province is doing to attract more health care workers

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January 19, 2018 - 6:30 PM

From nurse practitioners to physiotherapists, health care professionals are in high demand across the province.

The provincial government has dedicated several resources toward attracting more health care workers to underserved communities, including forgiving student loans.

The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training says in an email statement that the StudentAid loan forgiveness program started up in 2002 and hundreds of students have taken advantage of it.

Most of those students are health care professionals. They have the opportunity to work in an “underserved community” as defined by the province in order to get some or all of their student loans forgiven. For each year an in-demand health care professional works in an underserved community, up to 20 per cent of their student loans will be forgiven. If they work in those communities for five years, all of their loans will be forgiven.

Nurses, physicians, midwives, medical laboratory technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers, speech language pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists and polysomnographers are all eligible.

Underserved communities include 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, Barriere, Big White, Chase, Clearwater, Invermere, Lillooet, Lytton, Merritt, and Valemount. You can see the full list of communities here.

“Since the inception of the program in 2002, over 700 healthcare professionals have used this program to forward their career, and a quarter of those grads chose their career and the community in which they practice because of the opportunity for debt forgiveness,” Advanced Education, Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark says in a statement.

In 2015, the Ministry began using the Ministry of Health’s list of communities to define those that are underserved. The list includes a rating system which assigns isolation points to each community in B.C., based on factors including community size and distance from a major medical community like Kamloops or Kelowna.

“In total, the Province has invested over $22 million in graduates willing to work in underserved and often remote communities. I have often said that post-secondary education is an opportunity to prosperity – the StudentAid B.C. loan forgiveness program offers both students and communities a path to a bright future,” Mark says.

But it’s not the only way the province is trying to fill health care vacancies. The Ministry of Health says in a statement to iNFOnews.ca that other recruitment programs have proven successful at attracting health care professionals.

The province’s Practice Ready Assessment program fast tracks the licensing of internationally educated family doctors. The Ministry says to date, 73 family doctors have been licensed and are providing services in rural communities through the program.

The Ministry says internationally educated physicians who completed their undergraduate medical degree elsewhere can complete their post-graduate training at UBC under the International Medical Graduates program. It’s recently expanded, so that 58 of those students are now in the post-graduate medical education program. They’re trained in Vancouver, Kelowna, Prince George or Kamloops. At the end of their training, the students undertake up to a three-year return of service in a community of need.

A number of programs managed by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, made up of the Ministry of Health and Doctors of B.C., provide financial incentives for physicians choosing to practice in eligible communities, allow rural physicians to arrange for replacement physicians, and fund visiting doctors to travel to “extremely” remote areas to provide family medicine and specialized care.

The Ministry says nearly 400 overseas nurses are eligible for licensure as registered nurses, licensed practice nurses or health care assistants under the Nursing Community Assessment Service, which provides a pathway to licensure for internationally educated nurses.

The province has also set up a universal family doctor wait list for Kamloops residents. Patients can be connected with either a family doctor or nurse practitioner by calling HealthLink B.C.'s 811 number. So far, thousands have been connected to a primary care provider.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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