If you have been following the Nova Scotia news, you’ll be aware that we have an acute shortage of doctors in our province.

Approximately 15 per cent of Nova Scotians are waiting for a family doctor or nurse practitioner, the highest tally the province has seen seen launching the Need A Family Practice Registry in 2018.

As of June 1 2023, 148,431 Nova Scotians were without a family doctor and on the provincial wait list.

There is a recruitment drive to oattract more doctors to move to Nova Scotia and between April 1 2022 and March 31 2023, 168 new doctors started practising in Nova Scotia although the actual net gain of family doctors was only 86 as 82 doctors left during the same peiod. As of July 1st 2023,Nova Scotia is missing 73 specialist and 96 family doctors across the province.

And if that wasn’t worrying enough, 55 per cent of physicians in the province are over the age of 50. The numbers show a retirement boom is looming.

The NS government has been working to increase access to primary care through mobile clinics, virtual care, urgent treatment centres and pharmacy clinics.

So how can you access primary care when you move here?

Depending on the neighbourhood you move into, visit your local family practice to see if they are taking on new patients (chances are they won’t be, but you never know).

Next, call 811 (911 if it is a medical emergency and you need immediate assistance) or visit needafamilypractice.nshealth.ca

The NEED A FAMILY PRACTICE REGISTRY is a provincial list for people without a family doctor or nurse practitioner. Once you have registered here, you will be added to the provincial registry. When a primary care provider in your area is accepting new patients, the practice will either contact you directly, or Nova Scotia Health Authority will contact you.

Where to go for healthcare in Nova Scotia?

If you have an urgent health concern, your first point of call should be your family doctor or nurse practitioner (or if it is an emergency it should be 911 or your local ER)

However, if you are without a family doctor, there are several options:

811 – You can call 811 to speak with a registered nurse for healthcare advice, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Community Pharmacists: The scope of practice has changed for community pharmacistsm they can now assess and prescribe for minor ailments, including UTI’s. They can also renew prescriptions and prescribe and inject vaccines and medications. Here’s how to find an eligible pharmacy in your community.

Primary Care Clinics: These specific clinics provice primary care for people on the Need a Family Practice Registry. Appointments must be pre-booked. For clinics in your area, visit nshealth.ca/primarycareclinics

VirtualCareNS: VirtualCareNS provides people on the Need a Family Practice Registry with free online access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner. For more information, visit virtualcarens.ca

Mental Health: Call the 24 hour mental health crisis line at 1-888-429-8167. You can also visit mhahelpns.ca

Emergency Care: If you have an emergency or a potentially life threatening condition, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program: To book a mammogram screening appointment, call toll free 1-800-565-0548 or visit

Well Woman Clinics: These clinics offer health services, including pap screening and health education. For locations visit nshealth.ca/well-woman-clinics

Walk in clinics are located throughout Nova Scotia. Visit Skip the Waiting Room to find walk in clinics in your area, as well as up to date schedules and contact information.

I do personally find that the ER is used inappropriately at times. Patients with minor problems take up limited emergency room (ER) resources and create backlogs. Often this is because they find great difficulty making same day appointments with a doctor, so having access to the growing number of primary care resources should hopefully prevent people with minor injuries visiting the emergency room.

It goes without saying, for life threatening emergencies contact 911 or seek attention at your nearest emergency room. http://www.nshealth.ca/emergency-departments-and-cecs-nova-scotia

I hope that this post has been able to allay your fears somewhat. The thought of not having a family doctor can be scary, but knowing that you can access health care despite not having a “regular” doctor should reassure you.

The recruitment process is still moving full speed ahead, so hopefully new doctors will be making their way into practices and taking new patients in the very near future. Fingers crossed.

As always, please reach out if I can answer any of your questions.