The hands of a youth with rheumatic arthritis. The only Interior B.C. doctor specializing in the treatment of juvenile arthritis has retired, leaving young families forced to make regular trips to Vancouver while the specialist’s replacement is tied up in red tape.
Dr. Katherine Gross has been practicing general paediatric medicine in Penticton for 28 years, along with a subspecialty of paediatric rheumatology.
“It’s not an uncommon condition,” she explained. “People think that arthritis affects adults and don’t think of it affecting children when actually it’s about as common as type-one diabetes.”
In youth, the disease is caused by an autoimmune condition that leads to painful inflammation in the joints and a variety of other conditions. It’s often treated with chemotherapy, meaning the kids need to see a specialist as often as every 12 weeks.
Dr. Gross is the only doctor specialized in the condition outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island and sees children from across the Thompson-Okanagan and Kootenays.
She has managed to secure a replacement for her general paediatric practice, but a strong candidate with the same speciality faces regulatory barriers.
“We started planning about two years ago and thought we had someone that would be able to take over from me,” she said.
The replacement specialist was trained in paediatric rheumatology in Vancouver, but the bulk of her medical education occurred in India, a jurisdiction the BC College doesn’t recognize.
Dr. Gross explained the BC College has programs to get foreign general practitioners working in Canada through a three-month supervised job-shadow system, but those programs don’t exist for specialists.
“We feel she would do a really excellent job,” Dr. Gross said. “That’s a frustration, it may work out in the long run, but not for the moment.”
“The candidate we have has been given landed immigrant status in Canada based on her skills, but then she’s unable to use those skills because she can’t get licensed. That seems to be a catch-22 that Canada needs to deal with.”
Dr. Gross, who comes from Australia, says she will be staying in Penticton in her retirement and will miss her “very satisfying, wonderful” career.
“But it’s the time in my life that it’s time to step down. Getting up in the night one-in-four nights is hard to do when you get to my age.”
She is considering some sporadic locum work, and is currently working in a temporary role until the end of February, but can’t commit to running the whole paediatric rheumatology outreach program.
The doctors in Vancouver who most of her patients will have to travel to have voiced their own concerns about being able to handle the increased caseload, she said.
To bring attention to the issue, B.C. charity Cassie and Friends will tour ten Okanagan elementary schools later this month with a puppet show, educating more than 2,500 students about juvenile arthritis
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