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Physician recruitment underway through new provincial program

The Practice Ready Ontario (PRO) program could bring as many as three new physicians to Muskoka as soon as this fall.

The program was established in June 2023 with provincial officials in collaboration with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and the Touchstone Institute. The non-profit corporation is based in Toronto, Ont., and helps recruit internationally trained doctors to Ontario and support them once they arrive. 

Initially, provincial officials said it would bring 50 new physicians to Ontario by 2024. 

Dr. Keith Cross, speaking on behalf of the Muskoka Area Ontario Health Team, explains the program is new to Ontario but not Canada, noting Manitoba is one of the provinces offering a similar initiative. It supports medical professionals who aren’t licensed in Ontario but are somewhere else to move to the area. Cross says it involves multiple interviews, tours of Muskoka, and a three-month clinical workplace-based assessment then, if successful, the candidate would be required to practice locally for at least three years. 

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Huntsville recently approved a physician incentive program with a $60,000 signing bonus available for up to four new physicians. 

Dr. Melanie Mar with the Algonquin Family Health Team (AFHT) in Huntsville says the incentive and PRO are “the norm” for physician recruitment. “In order to be competitive in other communities in our surrounding area, like Southern or Northern Ontario, it’s definitely an asset to have,” she says but adds it’s not expected. 

With this program still in its infancy, she points out there are “some kinks” to be worked out. 

Mar suggests new physicians could land in Muskoka by the fall of 2024 but notes they haven’t had any confirmation. 

In Huntsville, town officials say there are over 3,000 people without a primary care provider while Cross believes there are thousands more without a family doctor in South Muskoka. 

“It puts additional strain on the remaining resources,” says Cross. 

He adds those who applied through the PRO program, four were invited to visit Muskoka and three were sent proposals. 

Cross and Mar agree physicians in Muskoka are very “collegial.” 

“If you really are looking for a community to live in you really want to know you have a medical community but also a community at large that wants to support you, wants you to be successful and wants you to stay,” says Mar. 

Mar, through AFHT, has operated the Huntsville Health Care Clinic at 1 Minerva St. E. since Feb. 2023. “It’s been working quite well but it certainly isn’t the same as having a consistent physician or nurse practitioner,” she says. 

While it’s a temporary solution, Mar expects it will continue to operate for “at least” a few more years while they look to fill gaps in the community. 

Mar is hopeful PRO and other new recruitment programs help bring a steady flow of physicians in to support the ones already here and the many residents without a family doctor. However, she’s aware the pool of physicians is “scarce.” 

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