Cape Breton — Nova Scotia has come up with a creative fix to two big problems in the province: the devastating layoffs at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton, and the shortage of family doctors to replace retiring ones.
“These miners need jobs, and what are physician vacancies but jobs up for grabs?” said Premier Stephen McNeil. “And the professions overlap to a certain extent — don’t doctors just ‘mine’ the cholesterol from people’s arteries and ‘excavate’ disease from the human body?
“We’ll get two birds stoned at once, as Ricky would say.”
On Tuesday 49 people were laid off from the mine, which is downsizing in order to remain viable. All the laid-off miners are natives of Cape Breton who say the job was the best available on the struggling island.
At the same time, many retiring Halifax physicians can’t find replacements, so in a “Hail Mary” attempt to salvage their longstanding practices, they are quickly training these miners to treat the thousands of patients who need family doctors.
“It’s terrible that the province can’t attract new doctors, but these 49 miners are a godsend,” said Dr. George Bolton of Halifax, during open auditions he was holding to find his replacement. “Just look at them all! So eager! Medical school is really just a formality at this point anyway. You don’t need it; you just need a can-do attitude, a willingness to learn, and a strong stomach.
“Surely at least one of these guys can make the cut.”
Laid-off miner Brad Garett was just hired on at a practice in Dartmouth. “More than likely, these young hotshot doctors fresh outta school just don’t want to work hard and want to move away for more money, but I think a doctor’s salary is pretty damn decent,” he said. “It’s actually a bit more than I was making in the mine. Now if I can just figure out what ‘halitosis’ or ‘sciatica’ is I’ll be in the clear.”
Many Nova Scotians who’ve only now gotten a family doctor because of the mine layoffs are just happy to have their various ailments finally treated.
“I’m not crazy about being examined by a miner, but it’s better than nothing I guess,” said Fran Harvey, who was in the waiting room at Garett’s new office.
“He’s used to dark spaces…maybe he can look down my throat with that light on his helmet and tell me what that lump growing back there is. Or he can take a pickaxe to my eczema — I bet that’d feel pretty good.”