Family doctor forks over $700K of own money to lure physicians to her Winnipeg clinics
Dr. Shadi Rezazadeh says it shouldn't be her job to recruit, provide incentives to new doctors
A physician in Winnipeg is sacrificing some of her family's savings to lure a number of doctors to her practice.
Dr. Shadi Rezazadeh lured 10 physicians from the United Kingdom, but only after realizing she needed to up the ante financially.
She's putting up around $70,000 per doctor — or, $700,000 in total.
"Yes, I'm so happy that my patients on the waitlist will have a family doctor, but I have to pay all of this out of my pocket." she told CBC News on Monday.
Rezazadeh is bringing five new physicians to her Trucare Medical Clinic on McPhillips Street, which she's run for a number of years.
The other five physicians will set up their practice at Rivergrove Medical Clinic on the north edge of the city on Main Street. The clinic briefly closed last year after the previous owner retired.
Incentives should be government responsibility, Rezazadeh says
Rezazadeh is disappointed at the lengths she has to go through to keep her clinics running.
"It's not my job to recruit doctors and pay them. It's a government's job," she said.
A year ago, she began her recruitment efforts with the goal of enticing one doctor. She set her sights on the United Kingdom because their physicians, who are paid less, don't need additional certification to practice in Canada.
She hired a recruitment agency, but was often on the phone with potential recruits, extolling the virtues of Winnipeg as opposed to Canada's larger metropolises. Rezazadeh, who's originally from Iran and moved to Toronto with her parents, expected she wouldn't stay in Manitoba much longer than her medical residency, but she fell in love with the province.
"I had to talk to them for hours and hours just to convince them this is a good city," she said of phone conversations she had with prospective doctors for her clinics.
After a few interviews with U.K. physicians, she was being asked what else she could provide.
"I had to offer some incentive for them to kind of choose me over 10 other clinics."
She settled on a $17,500 signing bonus for each physician. She'd also pay for a one-way flight to Winnipeg for the new doctor and their family and, for each physician's first month, free housing and a rental car. She also still had to make her payments to the recruiter. Combined, those costs come to around $70,000 per physician.
The new doctors, each under a three-year commitment, will all arrive by June. In fact, five of them called her on a day in December, after learning about her incentives from other U.K. physicians.
"I feel good about it, but I'm drowning financially," Rezazadeh said.
While she expects to recoup her costs through a portion of the physicians' earnings, she's taking a short-term hit. Her family couldn't afford their annual vacation over the holidays.
Doctors Manitoba disappointed
Doctors Manitoba president Michael Boroditsky said Rezazadeh's personal sacrifices are an example of the desperation too many of his colleagues are going through. He said other clinics are also sweetening the pot to lure physicians.
"It would be, from a personal perspective, disappointing if physicians are feeling they have to put up their own personal money to recruit colleagues when we are a publicly-funded system," Boroditsky said.
A 2023 survey from Doctors Manitoba found more than half of existing physicians — 51 per cent — planned on either retiring, leaving the province or cutting back their hours in the next three years.
"We have been outmaneuvered in this province for years to recruit physicians to our province," Boroditsky said.
"It's why Manitoba has per capita the lowest number of family physicians in the country" — just 111 doctors per 100,000 residents.
Boroditsky said the new contract the province reached with doctors last year, which includes a $268-million funding boost, is an "excellent step," as are increases to physician training seats, but more is needed if a physician is resorting to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I think that there are avenues and it's beyond just remuneration. It's about support once they're here, infrastructure once they're here within the health-care system," he said.
Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara applauds Rezazadeh's initiative.
"I was actually really impressed at Dr. Rezazadeh's innovation and her approach to showing initiative to make sure that she can provide the care out of her practice that Manitobans are counting on," Asagwara said.
"I'm really excited to meet with this doctor and learn about her particular approach, learn about the innovative approach she's taking to recruiting doctors, and to listen to her concerns and ideas as we move forward as a government who is going to work in collaboration with doctors just like her."
Asagwara said there isn't a "silver bullet" to solving the recruitment and retention challenge, but a big part of the government's approach will involve listening and learning from doctors. The health minister will meet with Rezazadeh on Wednesday.
Progressive Conservative health critic Kathleen Cook said Rezazadeh's story speaks to the need for a co-ordinated province-wide strategy to train, recruit and retain doctors.
Cook said she hopes the health minister will take the doctor's advice.
"I think it's interesting that the private sector is having some success with those targeted recruitment initiatives, and there's perhaps something the government can learn from that success."