An agreement was signed this week to establish a family medicine residency program in Kamloops as early as 2014, something a longtime physician hopes will alleviate doctor shortages.
"We just had University of B.C. and the Ministry of Health agree in principle they'd commit to a family medical residency program," said Dr. Shirley Sze, head of the Thompson Division of Family Practice, an association that represents family physicians in the city and region.
"That's very positive."
Work to establish the program here is being headed by Dr. Selena Lawrie. She cautioned Friday the effort is in the early stages and she has not dealt directly with the Ministry of Health.
"To a large extent this will help train new doctors, who will then likely stay in our community," Lawrie said.
While medical students have come here to study in the past, the new program involves doctors who have graduated from university and are entering a residency program. After two years as residents and several exams, they become certified by the College of Family Physicians in Canada.
Residents in family medicine are expected to begin training here — at Royal Inland Hospital as well as with family physicians at their offices — as early as 2014.
"They've qualified as physicians," Sze said. "They'll start their training in our community. We'll get them out of school and get them trained here and to know our community well."
In addition to the residency program, medical students from the Kelowna campus of UBC who are not yet graduated will start training here on a more formalized basis next year.
Sze estimated there are about 15,000 people in Kamloops without a family physician, which equates to seven to 10 full-time equivalent doctors.
Practicing family physicians will assist in training residents in family medicine.
"When you train someone it's a time commitment on top of your workload," she said. "We're committed to doing that."
Lawrie will work to identify physicians in Kamloops who will lead areas in the program under development, including curriculum and behavioural medicine.
The family physician also said she is aware of the risk of overloading specialists practicing here who will be valued for their expertise.
"We don't want to overload our limited specialty resources who are already struggling to see the number of patients they do."
An estimated six to eight residents will train here.
"It's important to welcome them," Sze said. "I came here thinking I'd stay two years — and it's 33 years later."