Efforts are being made to alleviate a shortage of doctors in the South Okanagan Similkameen.

Efforts are being made to alleviate a shortage of doctors in the South Okanagan Similkameen.

Doctor shortage addressed

It has been a challenge for Summerland residents to find a family doctor, but efforts have been made to alleviate this problem.

It has been a challenge for Summerland residents to find a family doctor in the community, but efforts have been made to alleviate this problem.

Dr. Murali Venkataraman, a Summerland doctor and physician lead for the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, said a shortage of doctors is a concern.

“We definitely have a challenge locally and across the province,” he said.

“It’s something we’re trying to address.”

He explained Summerland has been in an unusual situation, with two doctors ready to retire and others looking to take time off or reduce their hours.

In addition, two aging Penticton physicians, both with Summerland patients, had to leave their practices suddenly because of health concerns.

Doctors in Summerland have been able to absorb many of the patients affected.

“Most physicians are already working fairly long hours,” he said.

For those who are not able to find a family physician, an after-hours walk-in clinic has been in place at the Rosedale Medical Associate location on Rosedale Avenue.

The clinic operates Monday to Friday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Venkataraman said this clinic offers a starting point for patients and provides care in Summerland.

Terrie Crawford, executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, said that while the division is working to attract new doctors, further solutions are also needed.

“Recruitment is not the only solution,” she said. “We’re looking at other solutions as well.”

One solution is to improve efficiencies in doctors’ offices. Another is setting up locum doctors, who look after patients when other doctors are unable to do so.

“We’re trying to develop a multi-faceted approach to deal with this issue,” Venkataraman said.

He said a total of 13 new doctors have been brought in to the South Okanagan Similkameen region. “That has prevented more than 11,000 people from losing a doctor,” he said.

In addition, the University of British Columbia’s Family Medicine Residency Program brings new medical graduates to the region for a two-year term.

Training is delivered at 18 sites across the province, including the South Okanagan Similkameen.

Each year, four new medical residents are being accepted to work in the region. The first four residents in this program started in the region in July.

During the two-year program, the residents will gain experience at hospitals and community-based settings.