Mentorship program developed for new Sask. doctors

"You don't have to 'Bleed Green' and go to every Roughriders game, but do they feel accepted that they're part of their community? Both their medical community and local community."

Bryn Levy 3 minute read May 16, 2022

A new program is trying to make Saskatchewan a little friendlier for new doctors.

“Sometimes physicians, they’re new, and they feel siloed. They don’t know what’s happening say in Saskatoon or Regina if they’re in Melfort, let’s say,” said Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. John Gjevre.

The SMA and provincial Ministry of Health are putting up a combined $1.4 million for the Coaching and Mentoring program for Physicians in Saskatchewan (COMPASS), which will run for five years.

Gjevre said the goal is to help familiarize doctors in their first five years of practice with the ins and outs of Saskatchewan’s health system. He said even doctors arriving from other Canadian provinces can find things take some getting used to here — some jurisdictions may use different systems for ordering tests or sending results, for instance.

These little aggravations can add up for a doctor starting a new practice, and the learning curve is even steeper for those coming from outside Canada, he said.

“So now, they’ll be able to call their coach, and just ask a question they’d maybe be embarrassed to ask their department head, or their colleagues.”

Along with tips and advice on the medical side, Gjevre said they hope COMPASS helps give participants a sense of belonging, which should help them deliver better care for patients, and help keep them in the province.

“You don’t have to ‘Bleed Green’ and go to every Roughriders game, but do they feel accepted that they’re part of their community? Both their medical community and local community.”

Dr. James Barton, associate dean of continuing medical education at the University of Saskatchewan, will oversee the program. He said the hope is to have 20 mentor-physician pairs set up in the coming months, and then expand from there. He appreciates the province and the SMA providing funding, he said, noting it would be tough to get physicians to peel themselves away from their practices if they weren’t compensated for their time.

Doctor retention has proven challenging in Saskatchewan for years, especially in rural and remote areas. Last month, Warman mayor Gary Philipchuk told MLAs gathered at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention in Regina that a lack of doctors in his community had “reached a crisis level.”

Burnout has also been a problem for both new and more seasoned doctors. A recent SMA survey of 400 Saskatchewan doctors found one in five are considering retirement.

Barton said COMPASS was first conceived as a tool to help address burnout among newly recruited physicians, by helping them build a network in their new home. He stressed it will be just one piece of a “co-ordinated choir of effort” to help keep more doctors here.

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