On the weekend of Nov. 3, 2023, 38 first, second and third-year medical residents toured Waterloo Region during the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce’s physician recruitment weekend. The event aims to recruit new doctors to fill a growing shortage of family doctors in the region.   

This year’s residents included 31 family medicine residents, five emergency residents and two specialists. Five universities were represented: the University of Ottawa, Queens University, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and Western University. The residents are still completing their education and training before deciding where to practice.  

According to an Ontario College of Family Physicians report, 79,000 people in Waterloo and Kitchener lack a family doctor. The report predicts that number will double to 150,000 by 2026.  

This year  marked the 25th iteration of the recruitment event. Jenna Petker, the Chamber of Commerce’s Physician Recruitment & HR Lead, said that, like today, there was a growing physician shortage. Local business leaders came to the Chamber to draw attention to the problem.  

“The business community had flagged their challenges of hiring and recruiting talent to their organizations, and primary care was one of the main reasons. At that time, we had 40,000 people without a family doctor,” she said.  

The shortage has continued to increase as the local population grows. Petker said that there are many reasons for the shortage, from family physicians retiring to others taking on fewer patients.   

“The rosters range in size from physicians doing full-time family practice to physicians that are doing part-time family medicine and working in other areas such as student health, refugee support and other specialities,” said Petker.  

During the three-day event, residents are taken on tours of neighbourhoods, cultural attractions and businesses to showcase the best of Waterloo Region. Recruiting the residents to the region is only part of the challenge, said event organizer Jeff MacIntyre.  

“Most of the residents already know this is a great place to work. The real secret to our success is convincing their partners that this is a place they can live, work and start a family,” said MacIntyre.  

Petker said that the Chamber of Commerce typically receives commitments from four to six residents attending the event. She added that recruitment is a year-round process for their team.   

“We’re constantly staying in touch. That’s part of the program We want to keep in communication with all the past attendees to keep them up-to-date with opportunities in Waterloo Region,” she said.   

The event’s agenda included a dinner with local business leaders and medical professionals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the Delta Hotel in Waterloo.   

Dr. Michael Lee-Poy attended the event to share his experiences living and practicing in the area. He participated in the physician recruitment weekend while completing his studies at Western University. He said the pandemic spotlighted the shortage as people realized how critical primary care is to the healthcare system.   

“I think a lot of people are feeling the pressures of the shortage here and across Canada. There’s a lot of conversations about how to address that. We are lucky to have the regional program that helps to expose people to our community, and then show the positive aspects of Kitchener-Waterloo,” Lee-Poy said.  

Waterloo Region is not the only community to host recruitment events. Lee-Poy said each community has something unique to offer residents and their partners, but he knew Kitchener was the right choice for his career and family.  

“Careers are important, but these residents are also looking to see if it is the right place to raise a family, whatever that means for them. The recruitment event shows them beyond just a clinic and the hospital. It shows them the community and vibrant life that we have here so they can hopefully picture themselves wanting to live here and stay here,” he said.