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5 surprising facts about Nova Scotia’s family doctors

At a time when more than 86,000 Nova Scotians are on the waitlist for a family physician, it’s crucial for us to understand how we can attract more doctors to the province – and entice the ones who are already here to stay. That means learning more about the people who become family physicians in the first place.Doctors Nova Scotia recently completed an in-depth study into the future of family medicine, speaking to more than 550 family physicians from across the province. Learning about the people who provide comprehensive family care and their visions for the future of family medicine in Nova Scotia will help us build a better health-care system – one that works for both physicians and patients. That will ensure that everyone gets the health care they need, when they need it, from the right provider.

Do you have a vision of a “typical” family doctor in your head? Chances are that vision might match the person who was your family doctor when you were growing up – but more and more, the “typical” family doctor is harder to pin down. Nowadays, there are almost as many different kinds of family doctors and clinics as there are different kinds of patients and communities. Here are five things you might be surprised to learn about Nova Scotia’s family physicians in 2022.

Women lead the way
In Nova Scotia in 2022, doctors are more likely to identify as women or gender-diverse than they are to identify as men, and the younger they are, the more likely that is to be true. Family physicians who have been in practice 15 years or less are three times more likely to identify as women or gender diverse. This reflects increasing numbers of women and gender-diverse people enrolling in (and graduating from) medical school in recent years. It will also have an impact on how physicians want to practise medicine in the future – after all, different people bring different insights and methods to how they practise medicine.

Rural renewal
Contrary to popular belief, not all new doctors are dedicated to living and practising in big cities. In fact, lots of young physicians still like to practise in small towns. Younger physicians (that is, doctors who have been in practice for 15 years or less) are just as likely as older physicians to practise in rural areas and community clinics. Small-town life is appealing to more doctors than we might realize. Practising medicine in a rural Nova Scotia means being creative and hands-on with the care provided, and really getting to know patients inside and outside of the clinic.

Teamwork makes the dream work
The solo family practice is increasingly a thing of the past. Whether they are practising in an urban centre or a small rural community, today’s family physicians mostly prefer to practise family medicine in a team setting. Collaborating with other family physicians and other primary care providers, like nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, social workers and pharmacists, allows both patients and providers to benefit from different team members having different strengths. Working together means they can collectively meet a wide variety of patient needs.

We also know it’s helpful when doctors mentor other doctors, especially early-career doctors who are joining a community. Having an established physician there who knows the area, the local specialists and the patients can help set a new physician up for success, and ensure they stay in the community long term.

Flexibility is key
In a world where finding a good work-life balance is increasingly important to everyone, it’s probably not surprising that many family doctors are looking at new ways of organizing their practices – to benefit their patients and themselves. Depending on what their patients need, family doctors can branch into other areas of health care, such as gender-affirming care or addictions medicine, or even find a new venue to offer care for patients who face barriers.

When possible, family doctors can make simple changes to their clinic to meet patient needs, like changing hours of operation, learning new medical skills or even letting patients bring pets to appointments.

The best part of the job? Patients!
Some things don’t change. In first-person interviews and written feedback, doctor after doctor stated that their favourite part of the job is building long-term relationships with their patients, including getting to know whole families across generations.

At the end of the day, that’s the reason why they do what they do, and why they are the people we turn to during the hardest moments of our lives.

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