COLUMN: Fixing the health care system, in baby steps

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Arviat North – Whale Cove MLA John Main is bang on when he states small steps taken today to help cure the continual nursing shortage in Nunavut will lead to much bigger steps forward in the future.
He’s also right when he says there’s no one magic-bullet answer to solving the capacity issue, and long-term solutions can only be found with a multi-prong approach.
Sounds simple enough, but the competition for health professionals across Canada is the toughest it’s ever been, and provinces and territories have to be able to put a sweet package on the table to recruit new doctors and nurses to their locals.
In many areas, Nunavut can’t compete with provinces offering warmer communities, climate-wise, and all the amenities southern Canada has to offer, and there are plenty in this great nation of ours.
But where Nunavut can compete and should be focusing all of its attention, is getting the young professionals while they’re still finishing their degrees and setting them up to be debt-free in a relatively short period of time when they enter the working world.
I know an engaged couple down south, both doctors, who accepted a sweet deal in Ontario that will have them on the positive side of the financial ledger in an impressively short period of time.
The couple agreed to begin their practices in First Nations communities for a set period of time, in exchange for having their student loans paid by the government while they’re earning handsome doctor salaries to begin their careers.
The government also planned three relief periods throughout the year, delivered a high-water mark on the number of hours (50) they would work a week and guaranteed their summer vacations on the dates they choose with six months notice.
The province offers similar, if not as lucrative, deals to students on the cusp of obtaining their four-year bachelor of science in nursing degrees.
Nunavut recruiters should be scouring educational institutions where students complete their bachelor of science in nursing studies both across Canada and abroad.
Surely in such a valuable and incredibly important area our government can put together a recruitment offer able to rival most, if not all, those the south have to offer.
At the same time, Nunavut recruiters should be doing their homework vigorously on final-year students to find those who hold the promise of fitting into Northern life quite readily.
And they’re out there!
The excuse of no one wants to live in the North, those scary old challenges we all face up here, is nothing more than an old, ready-made cop-out still being grabbed at every time the issue moves to the front of the qulliq once again.
Student loan debt can be quite substantial for many young health professionals, and the promise of having that paid is an enticing element to bringing them to an Inuit community for the first five years of their practice.
There are also promising young health-care professionals out there who have big-time extracurricular hobbies and interests that match-up with life in Nunavut quite nicely.
Limiting the number of hours spent on their feet each week is another vital component of a successful recruitment package.
Instead of focusing on things like someone might not get seen on a given day during a hectic week at the health centre, you look at the fact you have another doctor or nurse putting in 50 hours a week you didn’t have before.
Any way you cut it, not having our new health-care professionals worked off their feet when they come to Nunavut is instrumental in increasing our retention rate and having our new recruits talking Nunavut up as a place to come, not avoid.
And, finally, while increasing our recruitment numbers from the south, the Government of Nunavut has to start offering impressive recruitment packages right here at home and find ways to offer a nursing program in at least a third of the communities in each of our three regions.
Surely we can offer promising young Inuit students the same lucrative deal we offer those from the south, even if it takes an extra year or two for them to complete their studies because we have to land them at an earlier age and have them committed to health studies.
The recruitment package is the only real tool we have to substantially improve our health-care delivery until the day arrives Nunavummiut make up the majority of our health-care workforce.
And, access to programs that allow eager young students to earn their diplomas and degrees in health care – being able to complete the first two at home and final two in the south would be a start – right here in Nunavut has to become faster out of the gate to complement – and then surpass – our recruitment efforts.
A solid long-term plan will serve us much better than a Band-Aid solution to health-care delivery in Nunavut, and we have to launch our two-prong attack as soon as we possibly can.
Food for thought!

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