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When you ask most people what they consider government’s most important service they will tell you health care. Businesses have told us time and again that when they are recruiting employees, one of the first questions they ask is whether they will be able to get a doctor for their family. Its also a consideration for business owners and managers considering setting up shop in New Brunswick. This intersection of business and personal matters is one of the reasons the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s vision is Community Prosperity Through Business and why we’ve been involved in physician recruitment for nearly a decade.

The chamber’s Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee has been actively involved in government advocacy as well as recruiting activities since that time. We believe that helping young medical residents and physicians make connections in the community will help them choose Fredericton to base their practice. Assisting them as they become small business owners makes it more likely they will stay for the long term. Young physicians receive scant business training during their studies and our members have been generous in providing workshops, seminars and professional development opportunities. Access to primary health care is a community problem and takes a community solution ­ there are many groups and individuals involved. The chamber tries to leverage our particular expertise and connections as a tangible contribution.

Horizon Health’s announcement on August 3, 2016 that they were hiring 11 doctors for Fredericton, including five family doctors is cause for celebration. Family physicians remain at the centre of the New Brunswick medical system ­ if you are without one, there are few other options other than after hours clinics and the emergency room. This is a problem. An expensive one. In fact, recent research has shown that in New Brunswick’s urban areas, less than 40% of patients in emergency rooms have a family physician. This not only costs the health system more, but also exposes patients to other, potentially more serious diseases. Efficient and effective access to primary care saves money and produces better health outcomes.

These five family physicians will put a big dent into the Patient Connect NB no­physician waitlist but more work must be done. There are pending retirements in the medical community, our population is growing and we are competing with many other jurisdictions for doctors. Retiring physicians also have huge practices that they have accumulated over a career ­ new entrants are unable to fully take on a mature practice ­ meaning we cannot simply replace a retiring doctor with one that is new to practice.

For this reason, we believe that in the future, health care in New Brunswick must be more collaborative. To their credit, some physicians, other practitioners and the New Brunswick Medical Society have begun to move in this direction. Fredericton’s Downtown Community Health Centre is a big step forward. Horizon Health’s 2012 Community Health Needs Assessments recommended similar clinics throughout the province. Getting those built should be a priority. We need to start thinking differently about health care in New Brunswick. At the chamber of commerce, we’ve stopped talking about having ‘access to family physicians’ and started talking about having ‘access to primary care’.

Family physicians will no doubt continue to be at the centre of patient care. And we will continue to be here to make their transition to practice easier. This month’s announcement is a big deal, we desperately need these physicians. But we also need to start thinking about how our care is going to look in the future.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment.