By Colin McGregor
In the 2003 Quebec humorous film La grande séduction (Seducing Doctor Lewis), all the inhabitants of Sainte-Marie-la-Mauderne, a small village located in Quebec’s Lower North Shore region, accessible only by air and sea, try to convince Dr. Christopher Lewis of Montreal to move there. They need a doctor to survive as a village. They tap his phone and pretend to share his tastes: cricket, jazz, and all the same foods.
At the end of the film, this huge con game is exposed; but the wanted doctor has fallen in love, and he remains in the village all the same.
A village without a doctor or a nurse is a cursed village in our time. And with the problems of access to health care that we experience as a society, there are regions where Seducing Doctor Lewis would be more documentary than work of fiction.
To this end, the Mobilization de la Grande Séduction is launching a major campaign to attract 100 nurses to Abitibi-Ouest. Their website (lagrandeseduction.com) is full of incentives for nurses and other health professionals to relocate to this region of Quebec 660 kilometers, or seven hours by car, northwest of Montreal, on the border with Ontario. Their largest city, La Sarre, has 7,300 inhabitants; the entire regional county municipality of Abitibi-Ouest has a total population of 20,500.
The target of one hundred nurses seems like a lot, especially when all regions of Quebec are suffering from labor shortages in the health sector. But according to Pierre Bourget, member of the citizen’s committee: “The number of 100 is ambitious, especially for a community of 20,500 people. But this community has mobilized, it supports us, has got on board with us and has contributed $1,000,000.”
David and Goliath
He adds: “It is perhaps precisely because we are a small community that we are going to achieve this!” They don’t have such a dire need for doctors, but yes, needs for medical or specialized personnel also exist.
The premise of the movement dates back to February 2019, when the obstetrics department in La Sarre had to close temporarily due to the lack of nursing staff. In October 2021, following a wave of retirements and the pandemic, the shortage of nurses stood at 40%.
“100 nurses is indeed a lot,” says Mr. Bourget, “but the deficit is currently 65 and 35 retirements are planned within 3 years… We couldn’t let that pass without reacting.”
While a contingency plan had forced the closure of half of the beds at the Centre Hospitalier de La Sarre due to lack of staff, the citizen’s movement of the la Mobilisation de la Grande Séduction, in collaboration with their local and regional partners, continues its efforts to support recruitment and promote the attraction and retention of nurses.
Several concrete actions have been taken, including the creation of an on-call service for nursing staff called Mini-Séduction; and a reception and integration committee – this group is preparing fully furnished accommodations for the newcomers, which means badly needed housing created in the area.
Were they directly inspired by the 2003 film? “Exactly,” says Mr. Bourget. “We are trying to apply this concept concretely in our community. As in the film, the population is mobilized. Everyone understands where we are going. However, we have the humble impression that following our achievements, and those to come, we are making this beautiful concept grow.”
According to Maud La Rue, Creative Director of Visages régionaux, who participate in this program, the process of creating the campaign involved about forty people: nursing staff, partners, volunteers and instigators of the movement for the holding of “focus groups”. The Visages régionaux team is made up of six people who work on the conception and execution of brand strategy, content production, graphic design, and distribution.
Since the unveiling of the campaign, the reactions have been “extremely positive”, says Ms. La Rue. Writes Jépi Robichaud of the Journal le Pont, a community newspaper serving the area, since the start of the mobilization, 33 nurses have arrived in Abitibi-Ouest, with about fifteen others expected soon. They have been recruiting in France since last year. There, they stress the high quality of life in Abitibi-Ouest.
If you are thinking of moving there, do not forget that it is cold in winter! Take the story of David, a nurse who moved to La Sarre. His big discovery?
“After touring the facilities, the nurse was shown where he could plug in his car with a block heater in winter! And yes, that’s when he realized that at -40, with a jalopy or a princely vehicle, there’s a good chance your car won’t start! Stopping at nothing, David embraced this new habit without hesitation so he never had to get boosted. Never!”