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The first yearly update on B.C.'s health human resources strategy says 578 internationally educated nurses became fully registered in the province in 2023 compared with 288 in 2022.

Staffing shortfalls have been blamed for a series of health-care woes across the province, including emergency room closures, overcrowding and hundreds of thousands of people going without a family doctor.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province needs to "dramatically" increase the number of family doctors and other health-care professionals to keep up with expected population growth and close gaps in the system.

"We are targeting to add family doctors at a remarkable rate in B.C. to reduce the number of people unattached," Dix said at a news conference Monday.

Dix said the average family doctor cares for about 1,250 patients while a nurse practitioner has about 1,000 patients.

"That's how many doctors you need to meet 250,000 (more people) and we're going to see continuing growth," he said.

"So we've got high expectations and demand."

The province's update says "thousands" more international nurses are working toward getting registered and many will be getting the required clinical experience next year.

The update says the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives has registered 6,258 new nurses this year, including registered nurses and nurse practitioners, and has seen an increase of more than 14,000 net new nurse registrants since 2017.

It says 666 international medical graduates were registered with the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons this year.

The government has agreed to spend nearly $1 billion in new funding over three years on the health human resources strategy.

Dix said the government is focused on both retaining current staff and attracting new employees.

As part of an effort to improve retention, new security staff have been hired at 26 health authority sites, he said.

"This is a principle issue for nurses, to improve security and safety for patients and for nurses and for other health-care workers in our health-care system," Dix said.

"This was one of the most significant issues raised."

He also pointed to changes made in the province in 2023 including expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice and a new family physician payment model.

The government says its focuses next year will include expanding the pool of travelling nurses, creating a peer support and mentoring program for health workers and building opportunities for high school students interested in a career in health.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.

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The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press

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