COE HILL — Northern and rural communities will have an easier time attracting doctors with changes to physician recruitment rules, an Ontario cabinet minster says.
Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy announced Friday the changes to the Underserviced Area Program to draw more family doctors and specialists to the province to address the growing doctor shortage, the Waterloo Region Record reports.
Grants will be offered to doctors willing to practice in northern and remote communities and now foreign-trained doctors who agree to five years of service in exchange for postgraduate training can now settle anywhere in the province, whereas before they could only go to northern locations, the minister of training and colleges said.
Previously, only communities designated under-serviced could offer provincial incentives to attract doctors. Now incentives are available only to communities based on need, based on population and distance to health care services.
Here’s how the ministry of health explains the new rules:
The NRRR Initiative will provide grants to physicians and new physician graduates who agree to practise in a northern or highly rural community or in one of the five major northern urban referral centres (Thunder Bay, Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins).
Rurality Index for Ontario (RIO)
Communities are determined to be eligible based on their Rurality Index for Ontario (RIO) score – which will be used to ensure funding is specifically targeted to northern and highly rural communities. The RIO score (which is used for a range of programs in Ontario) is based on three factors: population (count and density), travel time to a centre offering physician care, and travel time to a centre that offers advanced specialty care.
Physicians who practise in communities with a RIO score of 40 or more will be eligible for this incentive fund. These communities face long-standing and complex challenges due to their geographic isolation and have difficulties recruiting and retaining health care providers.
(For example, Coe Hill-Wollaston Twp. has 60 score as of March 6. Bancroft is 62. Belleville is 6.)
The values of the grants provided to physicians are based on the community’s RIO score – the higher the RIO score, the larger the grant provided to physicians.
The physicians will be required to practise full-time comprehensive care for four years in the community, holding hospital privileges and working in a primary care model (i.e. Family Health Team) where available and appropriate.
The incentive grants will be available to family physicians and specialist physicians.
Northern Urban Referral Centres
Physicians can also receive grants to set up practise in the five northern urban referral centres (even though they have RIO scores below 40) because they play a vital role in providing health care services in northern Ontario and face significant recruitment and retention challenges.
The ROS Program will enable all communities in Ontario (except the Toronto area and Ottawa) to recruit Canadian graduates and international medical graduates (who received medical training outside Canada) who have to fulfill return of service (ROS) commitments. Under ROS commitments, physicians agree to work for a designated period of time in a particular location in exchange for a postgraduate training opportunity in Ontario.
The Toronto area is defined as the City of Toronto as well as Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Markham and Pickering. With the previous policy, medical graduates were required to fulfill their ROS in communities designated as underserviced under the Ministry’s Underserviced Area Program.
The medical graduates commit to five years of service in a community. After graduating, the new graduates will be able to choose among eligible communities, and the terms of the working arrangements are then negotiated between the community and the physician.