Lakehead lifestyle is an easy sell

Dr. Michael Scott

It’s no secret that recruitment and retention for acute care specialties can be difficult, especially outside major centres. Despite that fact, Dr. Michael Scott, chief of critical care at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC), was able to go from one intensivist (himself) at the intensive care unit to 12 in a very short amount of time.

“It was tough to start, but it was one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’ situations. And they did,” Scott said.

The program was relatively new, which may have contributed to the recruitment issues in the beginning. He also pursued a unique approach to critical care.

When the new TBRHSC facility opened in 2004, Scott took the opportunity to create a closed ICU, which was relatively rare outside of the larger hospitals. He based the model on the Toronto General and Sunnybrook, adapting the approach to the realities of Northern Ontario.

Ironically, what made recruitment difficult early on proved to be one of the reasons that Thunder Bay became so attractive.

Recruitment came in the usual forms: going to Toronto to meet with potential candidates, hosting site visits in Thunder Bay, and attending conferences. Scott was also able to create a unique approach of attracting physicians in the last year of their intensivist fellowships to Thunder Bay. They received a more well-rounded education while providing services almost like locums.

“It’s a different experience than it is in Toronto,” Scott said. “There’s a different patient population as well. It gives them a broader experience.”

Word-of-mouth after the fellowship physicians left helped put the TBRHSC on the radar for many intensivists looking for a new and distinctive position. But the key to recruitment success was what Thunder Bay had to offer, both professionally and in terms of lifestyle and family life.

Certainly an ace up Scott’s sleeve is the fact that he is a transplant from Toronto himself. He and his wife Wendy came to Thunder Bay in 1994 for what was supposed to be one year – and they haven’t left since. Today, they’re raising two boys here, something they wouldn’t want to do in Toronto.

“You can’t live downtown (Toronto) with a family, and once you get into the suburbs, it’s impossible to get in and out of the city.”

He said that selling Thunder Bay is easy for him, partly because he knows what drew him, and partly because Thunder Bay sells itself.

“Our whole family is pretty sports-oriented. I love windsurfing, so to be able to get to the lake and go windsurfing for a while or go skiing (in the winter) for a few runs, and then get home for dinner… it’s just a dream.”

It’s stories like this that he tells potential intensivists to Thunder Bay. Visits include a tour of the hospital, but also a tour of the real estate market and dinners to talk about the benefits of living away from urban sprawl.

“It’s more the lifestyle that sells the place. It’s an unknown lifestyle to people in Toronto,” Scott said. “Then we start talking about the opportunities in the hospital.”

Although you may think the day-to-day work can be similar for intensivists no matter where they practise, the reality is that there are more opportunities in certain areas. For example, those who like to teach tend to have an easier time getting an appointment at NOSM than they might at a medical school in southern Ontario. Then, there are the unique programs such as the Regional Critical Care Response Program, which provides help to physicians in emergency rooms and ICUs across northwestern Ontario via the Ontario Telemedicine Network.

“The opportunities at the hospital are surprisingly like at St. Mike’s and all the other hospitals in southern Ontario. You don’t get the super specialities, but then they’re just as hard to access down there.”

Scott himself has an appointment at NOSM as an assistant professor. He has also travelled the province to help other mid-sized hospitals in cities such as Kitchener create their own models of closed ICUs after TBRHSC’s success.

The recruitment efforts over the years seem to be working. Scott said that Thunder Bay is doing well compared to other areas in Ontario.

“From an ICU standpoint, we’re doing pretty well. We’re well respected for our programs, which really helps with recruitment. From an anesthesia standpoint, which is the other side I know, we’re pretty close. We’ve got enough people to fill the (need).”

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