City physician believes council can help attract more family doctors

Gary Kean
Published on September 5, 2013
Dr. Mark Smallwood recently posted on Twitter that he hoped the need for more family doctors would become an election issue among the candidates vying for a spot on city council in the upcoming Sept. 24 election. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

CORNER BROOK  Dr. Mark Smallwood says he sees the stress a shortage of family doctors creates in Corner Brook every day and believes municipal governments can play a role in helping attract new physicians to alleviate the problem.

The general practitioner recently posted on Twitter that he hoped the need for more family doctors would become an election issue among the candidates vying for a spot on council in the upcoming Sept. 24 election.

Smallwood estimated there are probably somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 residents in the Corner Brook area who do not have a family doctor. With no doctors currently accepting new patients, he said the stress is felt by both those who have no doctor and the doctors who find themselves having to deal with those patients when they show up in the emergency department with ailments.

In addition, Smallwood said there is an economic reason for the city being more involved. Having more family doctors, he noted, could help convince new business to come set up shop in Corner Brook.

“We all know timely access to a family physician has a direct correlation with quality of life and a correlation with the city’s ability to attract business,” he said. “Often, that is people’s first question: will I be able to get a family doctor?”

Smallwood hasn’t gotten much feedback from his tweet, although he said one candidate said it was a question that should be directed towards the area’s MHAs.

Smallwood disagrees that the municipal council and the local business community don’t have a role. He also thinks it is not something that would create a financial burden to taxpayers.

“We always put it off as a Western Health issue or an MHA issue, but I really do feel cities can accept a role in making it a physician-friendly community to come to,” he said.

His suggestion is a sort of coalition that would include municipal representatives, business leaders and others with a stake in recruiting more doctors to join forces with the local health care authority and provincial government representatives. Together, he said, the coalition could make a concerted effort to convince prospective physicians that a place like Corner Brook is the right spot for them to come practice.

Whether it’s a business offering up certain incentives to new doctors or helping find space for a clinic, Smallwood it would all go to show interested physicians that the city is doing its part to help recruit them.

“I feel the city can play more of a role as coordinator of things ... If there was a coalition within the city that can work with businesses to find options in terms of space to set up a clinic, for example, that would be huge,” he said of how the municipal government could help.

Smallwood, who said he is willing to help coordinate a coalition focused on recruitment and retention, believes the family doctors who are already in Corner Brook like it here and are comfortable. He would just like to see the city roll out more of a welcome mat to any others contemplating coming here.

“I think once they come here, they would realize what a great place it is,” he said.