Skip to content

Trouble finding a family doctor in the Tri-Cities? Here's why.

B.C. doctors say there's a family physician shortage. A new urgent care centre in Port Moody offers some help for those without a doctor, but it's not enough says young Port Coquitlam physician.
Family doctor, physician, stock photo
B.C. doctors say there's a shortage of family doctors who can provide lifetime care for local residents.

There are complaints everywhere, in coffee shops, on social media and in grocery store line-ups.

No one who has moved recently to Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam or Port Moody can find a family physician.

One local doctor thinks he knows why: many doctors are retiring and new ones aren't interested in the paper work, cost and stress of providing "womb to tomb" care to patients.

New doctors instead are choosing to work in hospitals or urgent care centres, where the paperwork and administrative burden aren't as onerous.

For Dr. Ashvin Punnyamurthi, who began practicing in 2014, every day ends with a mound of paperwork and some days it's after midnight before the 33-year-old Maple Ridge resident can get back to being a husband and family man.

It's not what the young doctor expected when he dreamed of becoming a family doctor while growing up in the Tri-Cities.

Tri-Cities doesn't have enough family doctors

"It's kind of like a rat race. We start our day and we're going and going until the end of the day [when I stop], and it's like a breath of fresh air."

There are joys as well, he said, and what inspired him to become a family doctor is the ability to "build relationships" with people, and look after their health concerns over the long term.

"It's kind of womb to tomb care, we look after babies and also their grandparents. [...] We develop relationships with patients and sometimes we kind of know — after having worked with them for years — what works best for them what doesn't."

In B.C., nearly one million people can't find a family doctor and the problem is acute in the Tri-Cities, as well.

"I've seen just in the last few months here in the Tri-Cities probably about a handful of family doctors have left their practice," said Dr. Punnyamurthi.

The wave of departures has a real impact, with thousands of people looking for a family doctor to provide them with care care.

Many doctors criticize the fee for service model, which pays around $31 to $45 per patient, others say the administrative tasks are too onerous and not compensated.

Finding solutions to the family doctor crisis

Some solutions to the shortage have been found, including the new Tri-Cities Urgent Primary Care Centre at Eagle Ridge Hospital, and an online wait list for finding a family doctor.

Dr. Punnyamurthi agrees the primary care centre can fill a need as it's open seven days a week, but is not the same as having the care of a family doctor who knows your history.

"It's more reactive," he said, "while we're about preventative health care."

If you are a resident of the Tri-Cities or New Westminster who does not have a family practitioner, you can receive primary care services at the Port Moody urgent care centre by calling for an appointment.

And the waiting list for doctors might provide come comfort, but the website notes that there's a minimum 12-month wait.

"Every day I have numerous requests — 'So and so lost their family doctor, can you see them, are you able to take them on? Are you able to take more demand?' At a certain point, you know, I'm over-saturated and my patients are waiting two weeks to come in for an appointment with me."

The young doctor, who has been practicing for eight years, including four in the Tri-Cities at the Elgin Medical Clinic, says young doctors like himself are opting to work in hospitals or medical clinics, where they work a regular day and don't have to worry about the cost and extra work that goes into running a medical practice.

Too expensive for new doctors to set up their own practice

Dr. Punnyamurthi said he joined a group of family doctors because at the end of his residency in 2018, he was loaded with school debt.

He believes solutions need to be found to reduce paperwork, such as universal electronic medical records, more help is needed to support new doctors, such as start-up grants, more family residency spots, and accreditation for international doctors.

Now he's joining a campaign by B.C.'s family doctors to raise awareness about the shortage of family doctors and the need for solutions.

The BC College of Family Physicians has launched the My Family Doctor Cares campaign, culminating in My Family Doctor Day next Thursday (May 19).

Meanwhile, Dr. Punnyamurthi would like people to know he really cares about his job and the families with whom he works. 

"In the Tri-Cities really they're just such lovely people and I feel sometimes when — I'm really stressed out — I think 'why am I doing this?' I think about the nice people that I care for and I remember why I decided to come back to the to the Tri Cities and I was glad I did." 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks