The Town of Hampton is putting its money on New Brunswick’s future doctors and banking on that investment to bring family physicians back to the community.

The municipality has joined the New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation Inc., which hands out scholarships to med students on the commitment that they stay and work in the province.

The Hampton Medical Education Scholarship is worth $5,000.

A group of concerned medical professionals formed the foundation in 2012 with the goal of fixing the doctor shortage in the province by encouraging New Brunswickers to stay and fill the void.

Hampton is one of only two municipalities contributing to the foundation. Most of the scholarships are from individuals, trusts and business with some money also coming from the provincial government. Rothesay is the only other municipality involved.

“This foundation is ensuring doctors will be in the province and we felt we needed a seat at that table,” said Hampton town manager Richard Malone, who also sits on the municipality’s healthcare committee.

The bursaries from the foundation require each graduate to stay one year in New Brunswick for every $5,000 they receive. For example, a renewable bursary of $25,000 requires the student to stay five years.

Three recipients in the first year received a total of $75,000. This year seven scholarships have been handed out for $280,000. The foundation has given out $1.3 million to 50 med students who will work in New Brunswick when their schooling is complete.

In recent years Hampton has lost a number of doctors due to retirement, death, and relocation. The community saw this as an opportunity for recruitment.

“We’ve been actively recruiting doctors since 2006, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to bring in as many as we’ve lost over the last few years,” Malone said.“Our goal is to have seven doctors in town, but right now we only have five. We know we have a number of people with no family doctor right now and we want to change that.”

Though Hampton’s scholarship won’t require the recipient to move to Hampton, Mayor Ken Chorley said he feels the act will shed a positive light on the community when it comes to future students making decisions about where to go.

“We’re hopeful it results in a recipient who would like to come here,”Chorley said.

This year’s $5,000 scholarship went to Robert Dunfield of Sussex, a second-year student at Dalhousie Medicine’s Saint John campus.

Dunfield said he is grateful to the community and the foundation for helping him pursue his career in the province he loves so much. And he thinks it’s a smart investment for Hampton.

“It is fantastic to see a small community working toward this initiative of keeping doctors in the province.” Dunfield said.

He hopes other municipalities will see what Rothesay and Hampton have done and decide to support the foundation as well.

“Students, even those who aren’t recipients of this particular scholarship, will see that Hampton is a place that recognizes the importance of supporting medical professionals. So when they are deciding where to move their families and open a practice they will remember the support Hampton shows.”

He said out of the 30 students in his class, 25 have plans to stay in the province after graduation.

“I am fortunate enough to know what a great place New Brunswick is to live. We know there are problems in New Brunswick’s medical system that deter some people from working here, but we are also excited to be part of looking for solutions to the problem.”

He said being able to go to school in the province has already given him and his fellow students the opportunity to feel like part of the system.

“We feel like we are wanted here. I think it is a different feeling than going to a bigger school somewhere else in Canada,”Dunfield said.

In June, Chorley and Malone both attended the banquet for the scholarship presentations, which Malone said was itself a benefit.

“We not only learned more about how the trust all works, but it was a great chance to pitch our community as a great place to set up an office,”Malone said.

The chair of the foundation, Dr. Donald Craig, is a recently retired doctor from the Saint John region. He said he’s thrilled with the public funding the foundation has come up with in a short time and what it is set to accomplish.

“This started out with a group of us in the local medical community trying to figure out what to do about our problems retaining doctors from Sussex to St. Stephen. Recruitment has been a huge problem when it comes to family practices. At first nobody thought it would work, asking people for money to pay for students to go to medical school. But here we are.”

According to the foundation 10 per cent of the New Brunswick population does not have access to a family doctor, and Craig said the project should soon make a visible impact, though it will be slow.

Two of the first recipients from the foundation bursaries are working in New Brunswick this year, one in Fredericton and one in Saint John.

“Of course the reality is, for every doctor we have retiring, we need two to replace them, given the new workloads,” Craig said.“But a few years ago we planted those seeds and now we are going to start reaping the harvest.”

Written by: Laura  Macinnis – Kings County Record