Canadian military doctors, nurses to begin work in Yukon hospitals

Doctors and nurses from the Canadian Armed Forces will begin working from three Yukon hospitals in April. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

By Tessa Vikander · CBC News

Proponents say it’s a win-win, but critics say it’s a sign of desperation

Canadian military doctors and nurses will soon begin working in the Yukon’s public health-care system, as the territory grapples with a health-care worker shortage.

The military medical personnel will provide their skills and expertise to support the health of Yukoners, while also maintaining and enhancing their skills, according to the government.

A joint press release from cabinet and  the Yukon Hospital Corporation (YHC) said the plan is one of several initiatives created thanks to a special Yukon health services steering committee. The group was created to try and address the territory’s “health human resource challenges” stemming from a global shortage of healthcare workers.

It’s being touted as a win-win situation, with proponents saying it’s not about fixing a shortage.

“This is a partnership focused around continuing education,” said Stefanie Ralph, executive director of nursing at YHC.

Yukon staff will be able to learn from experienced military medical personnel, while military staff learn about the North and keep their skills current, she said.

“This initiative isn’t about filling gaps.”

According the government, the Canadian Forces Health Services professionals will work in settings such as critical care, emergency room, operating room, and medical-surgical roles throughout the territory.

Increasing the pool

Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee said the program will increase the territory’s pool of Canadian health-care professionals who have experience in Yukon communities.

“By encouraging short-term education-focused tours of work across our health-care system, we can continue to ensure Yukoners have access to quality care,” she said in the press release.

“Canadian Forces Health Services health professionals will be able to maintain existing and learn new clinical skills while helping Yukoners receive high-quality health care,” she added.

But Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers, the opposition health critic, is critical of the program. He says it’s a sign of the Yukon Liberal Party’s desperation.

“If calling in the military isn’t a sign there is a problem, [then] I don’t know what is,” he said during question period in the legislature.

McPhee replied saying she rejected the idea that the program comes from a place of desperation and said frontline healthcare workers in the Yukon came up with the idea.

Arctic security

Amid global tensions, the Canadian military is trying to step up its presence in the North, and defence officials say this program will enhance national security.

Minister of National Defence Bill Blair said it will boost the military’s “readiness” to deliver care in the North.

“A strong understanding of territorial health care service delivery is vital to operations as we increase the Canadian Armed Forces’ presence in the Arctic,” he said in the press release.

The military medical staff will be stationed at hospitals in Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson City.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: N.W.T. wants right to use private agencies for all healthcare roles, says union, CBC News

Greenland: Drones in Arctic health care? Greenland pilot project now underway, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Indigenous students in Alaska get hands-on medical experience at nursing camp, Alaska Public Media

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