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Retired Nova Scotian finds herself without a family doctor


In her retirement, Valerie Vaughan-Hines enjoys bird-watching from her porch and looking for a pair of bald eagles that have nested across the lake from her home in Mount Uniacke, N.S.

But lately, the 65-year-old has been spending a lot more time than she wants to looking for a family doctor.

"People are saying, 'Oh, I think this clinic might be taking patients.’ We've been phoning clinics and they say, 'No, we're not taking patients,'" said Vaughan-Hines. "I feel like we're detectives trying to find a doctor."

Earlier this year, her family doctor retired and she now worries about how she'll manage her health and her Type II diabetes, which requires regular check-ins with her doctor for blood work and other evaluations.

"I know it's only been a few months but I feel like a safety net has been pulled from under me," said Vaughan-Hines.

Although she's concerned, she knows she's not alone. There are more than 145,000 other Nova Scotians on the primary care waitlist.

Doctors Nova Scotia isn't surprised by numbers. They point to the aging workforce that shows 25 per cent of family physicians working in the province are over the age of 60.

"If all those physicians over the age of 60 were to retire in the next year, you would see at least 360,000 more Nova Scotians added to that list," said Dr. Leisha Hawker, President of Doctors Nova Scotia.

In the short-term, the primary care waitlist will likely continue to climb, says Hawker. But in the long term, moves to increase physician recruitment by opening 10 more seats at the Dalhousie's medical school will help and so too will the creation of a new medical school at Cape Breton University.

Hawker says the government should look at keeping retiring physicians on board longer, by giving additional funding to family clinics to increase its doctor ratio to at least one-and-half physicians.

This would allow retiring doctors to create a transition of practice program, said Hawker, that would pair a new doctor with a senior physician in a clinic.

"And then you are gradually reducing your hours on the retiring physician and that allows for mentorship and also for continuity of care," said Hawker.

For Vaughan-Hines, the thought of moving to another province has crossed her mind, but she’s a proud Nova Scotian and wants to remain here.

"But I don't want to die prematurely in Nova Scotia because I don't have health care," she said.

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