Scotch Creek struggles to recruit permanent physician

By Jill Sperling
October 26, 2016 - 4:59pm Updated: October 26, 2016 - 5:39pm

SCOTCH CREEK, B.C. — The community of Scotch Creek has been without a permanent full-time doctor for years, and many North Shuswap residents have to travel to Chase or Kamloops in order to have their medical needs served. 

While the community runs a unique campaign to enlist a permanent physician, the health centre is relying on locums to keep the facility functioning. 

There was a doctor available through the program for most of October, but opportunities to see a doctor will decrease to only a couple weeks a month over the winter. 

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Dr. Mark Hickman is busy taking appointments at the North Shuswap Health Centre, but he'll be gone after this week. 

He's one of the doctors provided to the centre through the Rural General Practitioner Locum Program.

"I actually work in Kelowna," Hickman said, "but I've been trying to come out here a week a month to try and get some stability in the clinic."

Despite having a doctor in chase, Irene Lichon has been taking advantage of the opportunity to see a doctor closer to home.

"I am in a position where I'm looking for a doctor who meets some of my special needs, and Dr. Hickman, I find, has a lot of interest and education to some of the medical issues I have."

Scotch Creek started a unique campaign to attract permanent doctors to town in January, posting an old fashioned 'wanted' sign all around town with a $5,000 reward.

Jay Simpson, chair of the North Shuswap Health Centre Society, says the campaign was built to bring the community into the search for a doctor.

"This $5,000 is for anybody that brings us information about a potential physician, it's not for the doctor, it's for the people of the community, get them involved in bringing a doctor in," Simpson said. "It hasn't been successful yet, but certainly we've gotten a lot of notice, and the community is way behind us on this." 

The North Shuswap has a population of approximately 2,500 people, and many of those residents are seniors.

"It makes it a big challenge, especially through the winter when the roads can be bad, chronic diseases are a common thing out here, and they need to see a doctor on a regular basis," Simpson said.

While the situation isn't ideal, it has been worse. Scotch Creek was at one point without any doctor for nearly three years. North Shuswap Health Centre Executive Director Gail McNeil Oliver says locum doctors have provided some consistency.

"This past year we succeeded with getting extra dates, which was fantastic," she said, "so we've had doctors in clinic every month, and now going into the fall we have doctors here, which is new because we didn't have doctors here last winter, so (it's) a bit of an experiment but people are coming in and returning to the clinic."

For now, Dr. Hickman and other locums are keeping the health centre going, but the community is holding out hope for a more permanent solution.

Hickman says he's surprised more doctors aren't jumping at the opportunity to practice in Scotch Creek.

"For young physicians it's a great place to start, I think physicians sort of my stage of the career, where you're sort of at the back end of it it's a nice place to sort of come work a little bit less hard perhaps, but still enjoy it, so I think it's a fantastic place to be," Hickman said. "It's just surprising they haven't been able to find somebody more permanent." 

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