Doctor says 'sad story' of resident quitting medicine should inspire change

Dr. Timothy Matheson met Alison Fines when she was a student. Fines started an internal medicine residency when she graduated from Dalhousie University in 2013. A year and a half later, she asked to transfer into family practice. 

There were no available spots. Fines did everything from offer to sign a 10-year return of service in rural Nova Scotia to completing her residency without pay. But after three years of waiting to transfer, she quit medicine in January. 

Matheson said he did what he could to support her during her years battling the system. 

Timothy Matheson met Alison Fines when she was a student. (Town Medical Associates)

“She’s an amazing clinician and would have been an amazing family physician here in Nova Scotia,” he said. “To me, it’s a sad story for sure.”

Matheson said it was a tough situation, pointing out that Dalhousie University couldn’t give her a seat in family medicine that didn’t exist.

He said no one person or group should be blamed for how Fines’ story ended, but he thinks those involved can learn from it.

Lost opportunity

“I think that if we can look to other ways of supporting people through that journey it would be a good thing,” he said. “It’s not just lost opportunity for her, it’s lost opportunity for the profession of medicine who lost an amazing clinician and it’s lost opportunity for a community who would have had an amazing physician in their ranks.”

Matheson said there were always vacant seats when he started his residency through Dalhousie a decade ago.

“What we see now is that the spots get filled quite quickly in family medicine,” he said. “There’s some irony in that as well, given the fact that we have a lack of family physicians, but also because some people are deciding not to practise medicine here because of some of the restrictions that have been here up to this point.”

He uses the example of a resident he worked with, who was also from the province. The resident opted to leave and work in Newfoundland and Labrador because Nova Scotia was inhospitable.

“The winds are changing,” he said of the system. “But there’s are a few lost souls we may never get back.”

The Nova Scotia government said it’s listening and making changes. It’s opening 10 additional family residency spaces this year. 

Arduous process

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Health Minister Randy Delorey said what happened to Fines is happening across the country. 

“If you look at the underlining root piece of it, the notion of attaching to residency seats, that’s one that we’ve heard, that’s why we’ve moved forward in increasing access,” he said. “We took a lead in moving forward to expand the number of family practice residency seats in the province.”

Matheson said given the significant doctor shortage in the province, academic centres need to talk about accommodating residents who want to make changes.

“I hope that people get a sense how arduous a process it is, and how big a commitment it is for people who undertake the study of medicine and taking on [a] residency program. It’s not a small investment of time or money.”

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