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City needs doctors; thousands remain without family physician

Current health care openings in Thunder Bay includes at least 15 family doctors, 30 specialists, 40 nursing jobs and 125 personal support workers.
Caitlyn Phirbny
Thunder Bay CEDC community health services recruiter Caitlyn Phirbny addresses city council at their Monday, May 7, 2018 meeting. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – The city is short nearly 300 medical professionals and more than 3,000 people are registered without a family doctor.

But the number of patients looking for a doctor could increase as experienced physicians approach the end of their careers, warned Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission chief executive officer Doug Murray.

“Someone who would be a senior member of the medical community could have a few thousand patients and when you’re replacing that person with somebody that’s just graduating from school or just starting out they may want to have 800 patients,” Murray told Thunder Bay city council on Monday night.

“Sometimes you get hit with the mathematics of somebody with 5,000 patients retiring and now you need four or five people to replace that one person.”

Caitlyn Phirbny, the economic development commission’s community health services recruiter, presented an annual update to council on unfilled medical positions in Thunder Bay.

The current 279 openings include at least 15 family doctors, 30 specialists, 40 nursing positions and 125 personal support workers. In particular, St. Joseph’s Care Group has been unable to open a wing of their Hogarth Riverview Manor long-term care home as a result of not being able to hire enough personal support workers.

Phirbny said at least eight new family doctors and 21 specialists were recruited to Thunder Bay last year, along with six other health care professionals.

“We need to make sure we’re fostering a welcoming community and showing there is a place for the full family because usually these workers don’t come alone,” Phirbny said. “It’s a big task to relocate the full family in some capacities.”

While short commutes, availability of neighbourhood schools and relatively less expensive housing prices can appeal to some prospective physicians, there are others who see drawbacks in moving.

“There are some physicians who have families who are engaged in much more specific ways of life such as private schools or certain sports they’re not willing to make what they see as a sacrifice for their family by relocating them to a smaller community,” Phirbny said.

Phirbny said the number of openings is likely to change over the next few months as students graduate from Lakehead University and Confederation College and can accept job offers.

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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