PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, ONT. -- There’s a growing problem in Prince Edward County: local doctors are starting to retire, and they’re finding it hard to find replacements.

Dr. Anne Nancekievill has been a physician in the county for decades, and has been leading the charge to solve the problem.

“It’s happening right now. This is a crisis,” she says.

Nancekievill says there are 23 family doctors serving a population of 27,000 people.

Five doctors set to retire in the next year, and another five in the few years after that. Nancekievill says that’s expected to leave more than half the local population without a family doctor.

Kathy Memme is one of those on the waiting list for a physician. She says she’s spent three years looking for one.

“We’re a little worried about this,” she says.

After moving from Toronto to Prince Edward County, and her own long-term doctor retired, she has been sitting on the provincial waiting list.

“I started calling doctors here on Wellington, Picton, Belleville, Trenton. And all they said is ‘Are you on the list?'”

In that time, she said she’s had to visit the emergency room at least once for a minor issue she says should have been handled by a family doctor. 

Her and her husband, both in their 60s, have also been forced to travel two and a half hours to downtown Toronto to visit their daughter’s doctor for prescriptions.

“As we’re getting older, what are we going to do if we have to see a physician quickly?”

Nancekievill says one of the reasons it’s been tough to draw new doctors to the county are the skyrocketing housing costs. For those with medical school debt, it can be tough for new graduates to think about relocating. 

“We’re competing with a reduced number of family doctors in the pool. In terms of new graduates that are interested in working and living in rural areas, we’re finding it’s becoming harder and harder to recruit people,” she explains. 

She says the county has had to vote to offer financial incentives to get people to move here.

Rural medicine is also unique. Doctors care for babies, take shifts in the ER and even can take on palliative care. It can be a tough draw.

But with an aging population in the county, every action is becoming more necessary.

“If we don’t have primary care in our communities then people will get sicker,” says Nancekievill. “So hopefully, we can be able to find those physicians who want to live that life. which is a great life.”

Patientslike Memme are just hoping it happens soon.

“It makes me uneasy,” says Memme. “Because every day is different. Because you don’t know. You don’t know if you’re going to be healthy one day and gone the next.”