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Docs lured by warmth

Teviah Moro, The Packet & Times
Dr. Nivine Elgwaidy, left, and her husband, Dr. Nabil Beshay, chose Orillia to set up family practice because of the warm welcome they received from the local doctor recruitment team.

Dr. Nivine Elgwaidy, left, and her husband, Dr. Nabil Beshay, chose Orillia to set up family practice because of the warm welcome they received from the local doctor recruitment team.

It wasn't a generous signing bonus that attracted them to Orillia.

In fact, another Ontario community, Trenton, offered them $100,000 each over five years to set up a practice.

"This is the only place that doesn't give us any financial incentives," Dr. Nabil Beshay says with smile.

But what Orillia did offer was a friendly reception, Beshay adds, seated with his wife, Dr. Nivine Elgwaidy, in their new office at 201 Memorial Ave.

"From the first time we got here, it was a warm welcome,"?he says.

Beshay and Elgwaidy had been practising in Swan River, Man., where they held down a fort of 5,000 patients between the two of them.

With a plan to move to Ontario, they'd kicked the tires of a few communities, but ultimately settled for Orillia.

That warm welcome, the chance to apply their extensive experience at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and the natural beauty of the area sealed the deal.

So far this year, the local doctor recruitment team has lured seven family doctors to the area in an effort to address a chronic shortage of care.

Orillia is competing against many other communities, such as Trenton, that are grappling with the same problem.

"It's very competitive," says Tony Katarynych, chair of the Orillia and Area Family Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee.

The committee only offers financial incentives to recent graduates, but not to established doctors.

There is only so much funding to go around.

The committee is banking on $2 per capita from Orillia, the surrounding townships and Chippewas of Rama First Nation to help run its program.

But the committee has received only about 35% of that, Katarynych says.

"Unfortunately, we don't receive the funding we need, so it's very difficult to execute a business plan."

To make the challenge even greater, both Orillia and Oro-Medonte lost their status as underserviced communities last year.

That cut both off from provincial dollars they could have used to attract graduating doctors to set up shop locally.

The committee will have to recruit 15 more family doctors and the same number of specialists in the next three to four years to fill a looming void.

Baby-boomers are retiring and new doctors aren't as willing to take on the same heavy patient load, Katarynych notes.

That means one-and-a-half new doctors for every one that retires, he says.

The challenge is to draw prospective doctors to Orillia with other communities trying to do the same, Katarynych says.

But once they're here, "then our batting average is pretty good," he adds.

For Beshay and Elgwaidy, it's the end of a long day, and nearing the close of a whirlwind week spent setting up a new practice from scratch.

Interviews with prospective patients start on Monday.

The recent imports are renting a place on Cedar Island Road until they can find the right home to buy.

"Our furniture just came yesterday," Beshay says with a light chuckle.

That means more unpacking.

But it's not as if they aren't used to that. Seven years ago, Beshay and Elgwaidy called Egypt home.

In Cairo, they had comfortable and satisfying careers working in the Middle Eastern country's hospital-based medical system.

But they decided they had to pack up and go.

"Just to get our children to a Canadian university," Elgwaidy says.

At first, their two sons were unhappy with the move, having been uprooted from their friends.

But in retrospect, in light of the recent political upheaval and tumult in Egypt, they are thankful for the move, their parents say.

Both are university graduates. One lives in Kingston and the other in Mississauga.

"When they look back, they are very appreciative of this move, especially after this revolution... This was a turning point in their minds," Beshay says.

As for mom and dad, they knew their 29 years of practising medicine could travel with their sons to Canada.

Their first day in northern Manitoba offered a frigid Canadian welcome.

"It was a snowstorm. The worst snowstorm we had seen," Elgwaidy recalls.

A frigid memory, but the searing heat of their desert homeland won't draw them back.

"We love Canada. The weather is no big deal for us," Beshay says.

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