Doctor shortage is dire news for the Coast

Cathie Roy/Associate Publisher / Staff writer
November 2, 2012 01:00 AM

There's a crisis in our country that sooner or later is going to hit all of us right where we live. I'm not talking about super tankers, China trade agreements or whether or not you have enough dog food for Fido to survive the big one.

Those are all worthy concerns, but the one, the really big one that hits home for me, is the shortage of family doctors willing to practice in rural areas.

On Wednesday Dr. John Farrer was the latest in a group of Sunshine Coast doctors taking his leave. He's going back to England to spend time with his 91-year-old dad while there's still the chance to do so.

The good doctor, who you will read more about in next week's paper, is one of those wonderful people for whom the disease always has a face. His eminent move is one tempered by the knowledge that right now, after months of searching, there is still no medic to take his place. (Although most of his patients would say that wouldn't be possible anyway.)

Farrer, who came here 37 years ago through a series of serendipitous events, has seen many generations of the same family. He's delivered children who in turn are now having their own babies. He chuckles that no matter where he goes, there's a person he helped usher into the world. You don't have to talk to him for long to find out that, regardless of where he came from, the Sunshine Coast is now home.

Perhaps the folks Farrer feels the worst about leaving are the seniors, some of them frail, some of them sturdy, but all of them friends he's come to care deeply about over the years. And if the presence of grey hair and tears were any indication at his Halloween going-away bash, the feelings are mutual.

The long-time doctor has several ideas about why we've reached this crisis in our health care system. You'll hear about them next week, but basically it turns out that young doctors are no longer willing to put their lives on hold while they work slave hours. As one of Farrer's patients at his retirement party remarked, it wasn't unusual to see him at the hospital at 7 a.m. only to see him making the rounds again at 10 p.m. that night.

Most of us have things we can do to lessen our impact on the health care system. We can quit smoking or, if we're really smart, never start. We can exercise regularly - and no, jumping to conclusions doesn't qualify - and we can eat properly, preferably without the government intervention being proposed in Ontario.

But no matter how diligently we try to take control of our health, life is still a crap shoot. Folks who look the picture of health develop genetic heart disease, young women find lumps in their breasts and babies are born with diabetes. And the bottom line is: they all need doctors. In some cases, the delay in getting proper medical care can be a death sentence.

We need more doctors, and we need them now. That, in my opinion, is a crisis.

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