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New Brunswick discouraging new family doctors from practising: medical residents

New Brunswick is discouraging family physicians from practising in the province despite a growing need for care, a number of doctors in the Maritimes say.

Medical residents from throughout the region have written an open letter expressing their concerns to Premier David Alward and Health Minister Hugh Flemming.

"The roadblocks popping up for young physicians do not correspond to the patient needs in New Brunswick for doctors," reads the letter dated Tuesday.

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It is signed by a dozen chief and associate chief residents of family medicine training programs in the Maritimes that represent 141 post-graduate residents.

In their letter, the residents say there are limited job opportunities in New Brunswick for physicians who've completed their training in family medicine despite the thousands of people on waiting lists for family doctors.

The New Brunswick Medical Society says there are more than 50,000 people without a family doctor in the province.

Dr. Bobby Pomerleau, an assistant chief resident in Saint John who signed the letter, said the biggest issue facing new doctors is the government's handling of so-called billing numbers.

Every physician in the province needs a billing number to get paid for delivering publicly funded health-care services. But Pomerleau says New Brunswick "micromanages" the numbers by limiting how many are issued and where.

The New Brunswick Medical Society, which represents physicians in the province, has also been calling for the elimination of the cap to address what it says is a chronic doctor shortage.

According to the society's website, New Brunswick is the only province "to impose these kinds of limits on physician resources" in Canada.

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Pomerleau, 29, said the few positions available in New Brunswick require new doctors to move to rural communities that lack the professional support and research opportunities found in urban areas.

"There's a big professional disconnect there that can scare a new doctor," said Pomerleau, who also works at the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville, N.B., as part of his residency.

The Moncton, N.B., native said other new doctors are having to take over established practices from retiring physicians with thousands of patients, and that's no better.

"That's extremely overwhelming for a new doctor and it's just not something that you're able to convince a lot of them to do."

The health minister and the premier were not available for comment.

In their letter, the residents also say recruitment efforts have been cut in the province, leaving doctors who want to practise in New Brunswick looking elsewhere.

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Pomerleau, who studied medicine in Alberta before returning to New Brunswick, said he'd like to practise in his home province when he finishes training next year in emergency and family medicine.

He said he'd accept a position in a rural area, but believes he will likely wind up in another province.

"That would actually be quite sad," he said. "I came back here from Alberta because I wanted to be near my family. ... I'll have to go somewhere.

"I wish I had known before I came back that this was the situation."

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