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Residents get job-hunting help as employment market tightens

Growing concern about the employment outlook for some newly trained doctors has resulted in the creation of a job-search service designed specifically for residents.

The Canadian Association of Internes and Residents (CAIR) says its Transition into Practice Service (TIPS) is now fully operational and has already registered more than 130 residents. Under the program, TIPS contacts recruiters on residents' behalf to help them determine what positions are available or may become available.

Dr. Jesse Pasternak, a general surgery resident at McMaster University who chairs CAIR's Standing Committee on Health Human Resources, says TIPS was created because of growing concern that job openings for new doctors are becoming scarce in many areas, and particularly within hospital-based specialties.

On March 12, for instance, the CMA's online career centre listed 56 job openings for physicians. There was only one opening listed for orthopedic surgeons - that job was in Singapore - but across Canada more than 20 positions were available for family physicians. (On March 13, the Saskatchewan government offered a $120,000 incentive to doctors who settle in communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. The program is aimed at FPs.)

Bryan MacLean, the TIPS program manager, says there's little doubt that the employment outlook is causing anxiety among residents nearing the end of training, but he says the situation is "not as dire" as some think.

"Yes, things are tightening up," says MacLean, who has been working as a physician recruiter since 1999. "But no, there are not a lot of unemployed doctors."

In a recent article in the newsletter of the Canadian Association of Staff Physician Recruiters, MacLean wrote: "Some areas of the country are overstocked with doctors, while other areas are crying for more. New docs can't find jobs, while older docs can't retire because there is no one to replace them. The myriad of reasons 'why' is practically endless."

MacLean said his message for certain new specialists is simply that "you are not able to be too picky these days."

Pasternak says this is certainly true for new surgeons, including general surgeons - he said it is "almost unheard of" in Ontario to graduate from a surgical residency program and find full-time work immediately. "Everyone is kind of nervous," he said. "People finish training and then do a fellowship or start covering call."

MacLean thinks the job market has tightened in all areas except family medicine and psychiatry. He said orthopedic surgery has been hit particularly hard, forcing some new graduates to turn to part-time work and locums.

"But these things always swing back," he said, noting that a large cohort of baby-boomer physicians is rapidly approaching retirement age. "In around five years, 10 at a maximum, we won't have the orthopedic surgeons we need."

MacLean's suggestion for solving the current problem jibes with the CMA's own recent call for more job-trend data and career-planning resources for trainees. "We have to be able to let residents know in a defined way where the jobs are," MacLean said. "This would provide them with some security."

"We need a national strategy," adds Pasternak.

CMA President Anna Reid said the CMA has been targeting the need for this national approach to physician resource planning for decades. "We brought this up again last summer by recommending that Ottawa collaborate with medical groups to lead a benchmark study on the current specialty mix in Canada," she said. "We also need a supply- and needs-based projection to support health human resources planning."

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