Nov 3, 2013: Doctors tour Medical Centre under Construction

November 3, 2013   

Young doctors visiting region in annual recruitment tour
On a sunless day in Kitchener, the future was becoming a lot clearer to Dr. Melanie Rodrigues.

This weekend, Rodrigues, 27, took a close look at Kitchener and Waterloo as a community where she and her partner might settle when she’s ready to set up a family medicine practice.

About 16 family medicine residents, as well as their partners or other guests, took part in the annual tour hosted by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce in order to recruit young physicians to work here.

Rodrigues, in her second year of family medicine residency at McMaster University in Hamilton, was excited about the possibilities here — so excited that she was already planning how to make a move to this area possible when she has finished her training.

Kitchener and Waterloo are the right size, and they accommodate her broad interests that include low-risk obstetrics, palliative care and emergency medicine, she says.

“I’m also interested in teaching and patient education.”

Meanwhile, her partner, Nikolaus Jewell, is a nano-device engineer with a background in health science. He has German origins and an entrepreneurial streak, which is satisfied by the region’s wealth of tech companies and universities, she says.

“This community is the intersection of what he does and what I do,” Rodrigues said in an interview at a luncheon at the Communitech Hub in The Tannery on Saturday. “This weekend solidified it for me.”

What’s more, the community’s pace is right, not as frenetic as Mississauga where she grew up, she said, and there’s a feeling that new ideas and energetic, young community-builders are welcome.

Heck, the couple, who plan to marry, even drive here from Hamilton where they live just to have coffee some weekends at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, an inviting Parisian-style café in the former Tannery building where Communitech, a hub for technology commercialization, is located.

“Balzac’s is his favourite coffee shop,” she says. “We like the culture of innovation. It’s the little things, like drinking coffee and talking over ideas in an environment” where you can see people hatching ideas around you, she says.

“There’s the feeling of ideas developing, happening here.”

Rodrigues’s enthusiasm is exactly what Mary Sue Fitzpatrick likes to hear.

About 20,000 Kitchener and Waterloo residents are without a family physician right now, says Fitzpatrick, the chamber’s vice-president, family physician resources.

While that’s an improvement since 1998, when there were more than 40,000 people without access to a family doctor, it’s still a concern for the chamber, especially when you consider that many family doctors are about to retire, she says.

“Provincially and locally, about 25 per cent of existing doctors are at retirement age now,” she says.

At this time, some local doctors would like to retire, but are staying because they’re concerned about leaving their patients without a doctor, she says.

“There are about three or four practices they (new doctors) can just walk into.”

The chamber has helped recruit more than 150 family physicians since 1998, she says. Eight doctors settled here last year, and another eight are committed to come this year.

Some of them are interested in the new Boardwalk Medical Centre, which is underway at The Boardwalk development in Waterloo, she says.

“They’re hoping to have 24 general practitioners” as well as a number of specialists when it opens, she says.

Many young practitioners want to be able to walk in the door of a medical facility and begin practising medicine, she says. They like the collegiality, access to mentors, and being able to focus on their patients.

About 17 or 18 additional doctors in Kitchener and Waterloo would eliminate the list of 20,000 people without physicians at this time, Fitzpatrick said.

“I probably get 100 phone calls a month from people with family or parents and they don’t have a doctor, and not everybody knows to phone me,” she says.

She says residents without doctors should contact Health Care Connect, a provincial program that helps people find a family doctor of nurse practitioner.

The weekend event, which included a tour of the hospital, The Boardwalk, St. Jacobs and residential neighbourhoods, impressed some doctors and their partners who are looking for a community with both city and country features.

“We are looking to practice in a smaller community compared to Toronto,” says Maria Zago, whose partner, Dr. Rodolfo Dominguez was on the tour. “I think it’s a good balance here.”

The couple, originally from Mexico, moved from Vancouver in the summer to live in Toronto while Dominguez completes his residency at Scarborough General Hospital.

With three sons ages five, three and one, the couple is looking for a place with good schools and opportunities for Zago, who has a PhD in biochemistry with a specialty in cancer research.

“I’m in a situation where I’m happy working anywhere really, as long as my wife is doing well and enjoys where she is working and the kids have good opportunities,” Dominguez says.

Dr. Sabrina Berdouk was looking at Kitchener as a potential home for her parents and siblings, too.

“My family is important to have around,” says Berdouk, who was accompanied by her brother, aircraft maintenance engineer Ted Berdouk, a master corporal in the Armed Forces.

Berdouk, originally from Montreal, says she would like a community where she can teach as well as include urgent care and obstetrics in her practice.

Doctors and their partners said they appreciated the chance to peer into their future.

“What do you want your life to look like?” says Chris Bachmann, a PhD student in transportation engineering whose partner is in her first-year of residency in Toronto.

“We’re exploring. If you’re a physician, you have the opportunity to live anywhere.”

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