With Cochrane continuing to face an acute doctor shortage, Mayor Jeff Genung hasn't ruled out the possibility of the town providing incentives to attract more doctors.
There are some promising signs of more doctors arriving, but there remains a shortage that's being further impacted by our rapid growth and the high demand across the province.
"We're still looking at ways we can attract doctors to come to Cochrane and are working with local doctors to perhaps sweeten the pot from a municipal standpoint," says Mayor Genung.
He says there is a list of ways the municipality might be able to help, such as aiding doctors in bringing their families here or assisting them in establishing practices or starting their careers.
"I believe Cochrane is already a desirable community. We just need to get in front of new doctors coming out of universities and let them know we could use them in our community. Once they come over the top of the Cochrane hill and looked down on our community, they would fall in love, like the rest of us have, and set up shop here."
Currently, physicians practically have their choice of where to practice in the province.
"That's where there's this dance that needs to happen," says Dr.Brendan Flowers, of Maple Leaf Health Centre. "Where multiple factors go into the decision, similarly multiple aspects can support a physician to move here. So we're trying to lower those barriers for a physician to say yes."
Maple Leaf Medical Centre has opened a second office in the Fireside community, and it's just one of the clinics searching for doctors. They currently have two part-time doctors at the new centre and are seeking another four full-time physicians.
Only then will new patients will be accepted.
"At this point, we aren't taking any new patients because we don't have any accepting physicians, but as soon as physicians join, we'll be hanging that shingle out, and it won't take long to fill it up."
They're using several recruitment methods to fill those positions, and he stresses residents and businesses can play a major role.
"I've been trying to reach out to any business, any community-minded individuals to spread the word that we need physicians in Cochrane. People know that we need physicians, but they don't realize how pivotal they can be in the process."
Flowers says they have marketing tools available for people who wish to share the information. They can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other suggestions include voicing concern to the town, our MLA, and AHS.
Dr. Flowers believes AHS should consider allowing more sponsorship applications for international medical graduates.
He says a few local clinics do have approved sponsorship applications, but more are needed.
"We're trying to advocate that not only is there the need for potentially one of these applications in each clinic, but there would also actually be a need for multiple applications. There would remain a need beyond that as well."
Spring is prime time for recruitment. It's when many people consider moving to a new community to be settled by the time school resumes in the fall. It's also when graduates complete their residencies and are seeking full-time employment.
"Our hope is that we'll be able to showcase Cochrane for all the positive reasons to get them to sign up to our community," says Flowers.
Alberta Health Services has been made aware of the situation in Cochrane by both Mayor Genung and Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.
Guthrie believes Cochrane has the upper hand over some communities because of our prime location.
"I think there's a little work that we can do as far as marketing Cochrane, especially to the younger physicians," says Guthrie.
"By doing a little bit of recruiting through the university system or even overseas for younger doctors that are looking to relocate, we want to make sure Cochrane is top of mind for them."
He says the town needs to make sure it takes into account the services required by the community in its growth plan.
The Alberta Government has been focusing on filling positions in rural areas. It recently launched a Rural Education Supplement and Integrated Doctor Experiment (RESIDE) that will provide $2 million to 20 new family physicians in each of the next three years. Fifteen communities were identified for the first year of the program, none of them near major metropolitan centres.
"The program, while it's good to see, won't direct any funds to Cochrane," says Mayor Genung. "I hope to connect with our MLA and the health minister to share our desire to be a part of that program in the future."