Cowichan Lake has new doctor

A community pulls together: GP chooses to relocate his practice to Lake Cowichan

In a partnership between the provincial government and the B.C. Medical Association, a new incentive was announced last week in a bid to recruit physicians to set up practices in 17 rural communities in the province. The Rural Physicians for B.C. Incentive provides each eligible physician with a one-time payment of $100,000 when they commit to a three year term in one of the designated rural communities.

The four communities on Vancouver Island that were selected to be part of this incentive program are Galiano Island, Port Alberni, Tofino and lastly, Port Hardy which was allocated two positions due to their dire need.

“We applaud the communities that were chosen,” said Laurie Johnson, chair of the Choose Cowichan Lake Committee (CCLC), a local group dedicated to finding more doctors who will practice in Lake Cowichan. “They obviously needed it more than we did.”

Physicians selected for the incentive will receive $50,000 when they begin working in their new community and the balance of $50,000 after one year of service. If the full three year commitment is not completed, the entire sum must be repaid.

The program is part of a province wide drive to ensure that all B.C. citizens will have access to a family physician by the year 2015. In a recent Gazette MP’s Report, Nanaimo/Cowichan Member of Parliament, Jean Crowder pointed out that some five million Canadians do not have a family doctor.

With the bad news came some incredibly good news as the CCLC announced that on Wednesday, March 13, a doctor had been found who will relocate his practice to Lake Cowichan. Dr. Chris Kibonge has accepted a position at the Brookside Medical Clinic effective July 1, 2013.

“We are thrilled to know that the CCLC had such an effect on Dr. Kibonge’s choice to relocate his practice to Lake Cowichan,” said Johnson.

The committee, made up of a cross section of concerned Lake Cowichan citizens including Mayor Ross Forrest (co-chair of CCLC) was formed in early January of this year. They have met several times to come up with effective strategies to recruit physicians to set up practices in town. The group works closely with Vancouver Island Health Authority‘s (VIHA) Physician Recruitment Office based in Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley Division of Family Practice. Brookside Clinic physician, Dr. Philip Kerswell is also an active member of the group.

Initiatives include upgrading the town’s website, as often it is the first place a prospective physician may look when considering relocation. Other programs include compiling and distributing informational packages on the town and its amenities to interested parties. The group hopes to  provide hosts for visiting physicians who may be considering relocating to the area.

“Our committee is still moving forward to try and get another doctor,” said Johnson. “Hopefully our efforts will  help to recruit another one.”

The bittersweet side to any story of a physician relocating is that for each community gaining a new doctor, there is in turn a community losing one. Dr. Kibonge will be leaving the northern B.C. community of Burns Lake when he relocates to Lake Cowichan this summer.

“It’s so sad that one town’s gain is another town’s loss,” said Johnson.