'Misses the mark': Some doctors unimpressed with B.C.'s salary offer for family doctors

The B.C. government is hoping to entice more medical students into family practice by offering them more money. But despite an offer that includes a signing bonus and forgives portions of student debt, some doctors and residents say the deal still comes up short.

Alexander Kilpatrick is a doctor in residence with one more year to go before he's a full-fledged physician. He says the package offered by the province isn't attractive.

"I think it kind of misses the mark of trying to attract people to family medicine," he said. "It's not a long term solution."

The deal proposes giving family doctors a salary close to $300,000 a year, instead of the current fee for service model, as well as a $25,000 signing bonus and a partial forgiveness of student loans if they work in the province for five years.

Despite what may sound like big numbers, doctors and residents are quick to point out that the plan doesn't account for the high costs of overhead that family doctors have to pay, on top of often massive student loan debts and the fact that they don't get pensions.

"Look at the average overhead costs for a family physician, it's between $115,000 and $125,000, right off the bat you take that off," said Kilpatrick.

The offer is open to the 175 family medicine residents graduating in B.C. in a matter of days.

The grads will have to decide if they want to accept the offer by September.

"It's putting pressure on these grads to make a life-changing decision in a tight timeline, and that's probably not best for them or the people of B.C.," said Dr. Jennifer Lush, a family physician in Victoria.

"It's a bit like offering a glass of water to somebody when the house is on fire," she said.

Details of the offer seem to be evolving, but both residents and general practitioners alike say more input from doctors is needed, and that a new plan should likely involve various payment models, and not just a salary.

"This is a deal that was offered without consultation from family physicians," said Lush.

While Kilpatrick says he's still planning to go into family practice next year, it's despite the deal or the status quo that B.C. currently offers family doctors. Instead, he says he's simply drawn to the practice.

Meanwhile, many other GPs are getting burnt out and are turning away from going into family practice in B.C., where one in five residents currently don't have their own family doctor.

"This is making a clear statement to new doctors that while we're working on the broader issues, with them and with others, that we're going to take some steps to make things better for them," said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday. 

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