St. Joseph's Hospital's director of support services Mark Pettitt says the number of family physicians in Estevan is the highest it's been in a while. And that they'll be keeping their foot on the gas with recruiting.

St. Joseph's announced that Dr. Nazanin Tahbaz and Dr. David Liknes will begin practising at the Southeast Medical Group, located at the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation Clinic, in February.

This brings the number of physicians in Estevan to 15, including two specialists.

"Fifteen is a better number than we've had in a long time," said Pettitt. "So we're very happy to be at this point."

Pettitt said there isn't a specific number that would be ideal for physicians in the Energy City.

"Medicine is a very dynamic field with people coming for different needs. There are always access issues to physicians based on how many patients they can carry at one time. There are always physicians coming to Estevan, and there are some who are using Estevan as a training ground and getting some skills and some experience behind them and then moving to a different location."

He added that recruitment has really become a focus in the last five to 10 years.

"Living in rural Saskatchewan, physician recruitment is a problem right across the province in rural Saskatchewan, but it's also a problem Canada-wide because physicians can practise in the very specific type of practice they want to, and they can practise across Canada. We're just like everybody else. We continue with recruiting. We look for opportunities to bring local students or local grads back to Estevan."

Retirements also impact the number of doctors in an area. Though Pettitt said he doesn't know of anyone about to relocate or retire in the near future.

Pettitt said they promote the great place Estevan is to live for work and family life when trying to keep students in town that come for part of their schooling requirements. He said the community and the local foundation, the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation, help immensely.

He added that being part of the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment (SIPPA) program that brings internationally-trained physicians to Canada has been a boon for the local healthcare scene.

Dr. Nazanin Tahbaz

Tahbaz graduated from Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran in 1997. She's practised as a hospitalist, emergency medicine physician as well as a family medicine physician.

Pettitt said she's been in Saskatchewan for a while, and will be a valuable addition to the emergency room.

Dr. David Liknes

Liknes graduated from the University of Alberta, following completions of a family medicine residency at the University of Calgary in 2015, and the Enhanced Surgical Skills program at the University of Saskatchewan in 2019.

Liknes practised family medicine in Edmonton, Alta. in 2015 and practised family medicine, obstetrics, and surgery in Drumheller, Alta. from 2016 to 2021. He's already provided locum services for St. Joseph's in obstetrics to help keep the unit open.

Pettitt said Liknes is able to do c-sections, general minor surgeries, and endoscopy thanks to an extra year of training.

Obstretrics and ER have been an area of focus, according to Pettitt, with the next-closest obstetrics unit being in Regina. He said backup for the two specialists has been limited. They've had to use locums and have had to temporarily close services.

"We welcome both of these physicians to Estevan, both to our medical community, but also to our community at large," said Pettitt. Whether it be in the schools with school-aged children or in the recreation area, our restaurants, our shopping, and all that stuff."