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When Altru Health System looks for new doctors for Grand Forks, it often looks north. Canada has long been a good source of new doctors for the Grand Forks medical community, and especially so this year.

Nineteen doctors have been hired by Altru so far this year compared with 22 in 1998 and 17 in 1997. (Another five doctors have been hired who will join the staff in 2000.) And of the 19 new doctors this year, five are from Canada.

Weather is also a factor. Whereas freezing weather is the No. 1 issue for many doctors and their families who consider moving to Grand Forks, most Canadians aren't put off by our long, cold winters, said Dr. John Youngs, chief medical executive with Altru.


We've put a lot of effort into recruiting over the years because some people don't think North Dakota is the best place to go, Youngs said. I don't agree with them, but it seems like California and Arizona and Florida are more attractive to them.

Dr. Parker Eberwein, a urologist who came here from Calgary, Alta., said doctors can do better financially in the United States than in Canada but said that wasn't the reason he came to Grand Forks.

I got tired of the trials and tribulations of the Canadian health care system, Eberwein said. The quality of health care wasn't the problem, he said. Rather, it was the lack of prompt access to medical care and the government's seeming unwillingness to listen to health care workers.

Surgeries Canceled

In Canada, Eberwein said, he had to cancel surgeries because of a lack of surgical beds and sometimes had patients who waited months for elective procedures.

Getting a doctor's appointment for an elective procedure, getting a referral and having the case investigated and finally having the surgery could take a patient from 10 months to a year.

There is no perfect system and this (U.S.) system has flaws, he said, but patients have the options here they don't have in Canada and they have rapid access to physicians and care.

Altru recruits its doctors in various ways, and the latest doctors from Canada are an example of that. One was approached by a professional recruiter. One found information about Altru on the Internet, and another knew a doctor in Grand Forks who encouraged him to move here.

Eberwein said his wife, Louise, and their four children miss the mountains of Calgary but they found several strong selling points for Grand Forks. They were attracted in part by the UND medical school, the public schools and university, the arts in the community, access to the lake country and the local sports, including hockey. Nor did it hurt that Winnipeg was just three hours away, he said.

Youngs said many doctor candidates liked the way the hospital, clinic and other facilities were all in one area and that there was a medical school nearby. The trick in hiring new doctors sometimes was just getting them and their spouses to Grand Forks to take a look.

They're Amazed

Once we get somebody here who has never been in this part of the country, they're amazed, Youngs said. Some of them I think believe we're still in the horse and buggy days.

Jean Keller, Altru's recruiting specialist, agreed Grand Forks can be a tough sell for attracting doctors. Nor does hiring new doctors happen overnight. It could be months from the time a prospective doctor visited and was interviewed until he or she was hired.

Still, of 44 doctors who were interviewed last year, 22 were hired, and a 50 percent hire rate is higher than the national average, Keller said. Youngs said Grand Forks could promise new doctors they would have a busy practice and that Altru's medical facilities were first-class.

Physicians are really impressed with what we have as far as our physical plant and the availability of our equipment, he said. Then we do have a representative of about every specialty in medicine so they have that referral base that they can rely on their colleagues. They're very impressed with our nursing staff and how they care for the patients.

Doctors and their families also like that Grand Forks is a friendly place and relatively crime-free, he said.  Keller said Altru is recruiting all the time because there are always doctors who are retiring or moving. We always have ongoing needs and I don't think we are different there than any other major organization, she said. Here is a list of the other doctors who have been hired by Altru this year (all are working in Grand Forks unless otherwise indicated):

Dr. H. Brad Allen, family practice (Warroad, Minn.); Dr. Jon Allen, internal medicine; Dr. Sandra Anderson, OB/GYN; Dr. Robert Bierenbaum, plastic surgery; Dr. Nicholas Helwig, internal medicine; Margo Adams Larsen, Ph.D., pediatric psychology; Dr. John A. Magnotta, physiatry; Dr. Bonnie Omdahl, radiology; Dr. Rick Reynolds, neurology; Dr. Rita Richardson, neurology; Mary Short, Ph.D., pediatric psychology; Kim Suda, Ph.D., psychology; Dr. Susan Thompson, internal medicine (Cavalier, N.D.); and Dr. Rory Trottier, OB/GYN.

New Canadian Doctors

Source: Grand Forks Herald, October 11, 1999