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Atlantic Canada is soon to roll out a physicians’ register that would allow local doctors to more easily fill short-term shortages throughout the region without the burden of first getting licensed in neighbouring provinces.

Although doctors already can apply for a licence to practise in any province, the Atlantic premiers said Monday that the process is onerous and not likely to be done for filling in during a shortage or working in a new place for a summer.

The regional register should be operational May 1, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King told media after a meeting of the Atlantic premiers. Physicians will be able to opt into this broader register when doing their annual renewal with their own province’s college.

The goal is to make it easier to do such temporary relocations – known in the medical profession as a locum – and perhaps kick-start a movement to take such an approach nationwide.

“It will open up the pool of people who are available for certain gaps in the system,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey. “It’s certainly not something that’s going to fix the problem. But it gives us more Band-Aids, if you will, to help plug some immediate issues along the way.”

Concerns have been growing across Canada about doctor shortages and barriers that prevent medical professionals from practising here.

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The Canadian Medical Association said last month that its internal polling showed 95 per cent of physicians and medical students support pan-Canadian licensing. And federal health care funding offered earlier this month to the provinces and territories included a demand that premiers make progress on reducing barriers that prevent medical professionals from moving easily between jurisdictions.

British Columbia’s regulator revised its bylaws in January to allow nurses to register in multiple jurisdictions, a national first. And Ontario plans to allow Canadian health care workers registered or licensed elsewhere in the country to start practising immediately in the province.

Dalhousie University professor of medicine Desmond Leddin said the idea of a regional register for Atlantic Canada had obvious advantages.

“This promotes mobility, allows people to move around to cover hot spots which need attention,” he said from Ireland, where he also works. “And you know, in a human-resource shortage such as we have, and which we’re projected to experience, it makes sense to have more flexibility with regards to deploying these human resources.”

Dr. Leddin noted that he’s heard from family physician colleagues that getting locums “can be very difficult,” and from young graduates who want to spend a year or two doing these temporary fill-ins before setting up a practice.

The regional register is not a new idea. But more details were shared at the media availability after Monday’s meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston shrugged off concerns from a reporter that this system could lead to competition between the provinces for talent.

“If a doctor wants to fill out [an application] to go through the process that exists today and move to another province, they can,” he said. “They’d be more motivated to do that for a real, permanent relocation. What we’re talking about is, you know, temporary pitching in, mobilizing the resources of the region to help where it’s really needed.”

And Newfoundland and Labrador’s Mr. Furey, who also practises as an orthopedic trauma surgeon, said that the flexibility could be of particular appeal to the doctors entering the field.

“We think that, especially with new physicians, there is a want and desire to have a different style of practice,” he said. “One that offers opportunity, geographic opportunities, different experiences. That having this mobility and eliminating the barriers to moving around Atlantic Canada first, and ultimately we hope the nation, will be something that’s very attractive.”