Why Digby does not attract doctors

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By Dr. Ron Matsusaki

The people of Digby wonder why it is that Digby does not attract doctors. There are political reasons, yes, but I will not get into these. There are fundamental reasons for Digby’s lack of physicians.

Digby is a pretty place to live, yes, but a pretty place is not enough.

Digby, sadly, has no culture. Unlike our small neighbouring community Bear River, Digby has no interest in promoting an artisan culture. And though its historic culture is at least as colorful as Annapolis Royal’s, it has no interest in its history.

We were once a town called Conway, a town which was besieged time and time again by privateers who entered by way of St. George’s Strait (the ‘Gut’). To protect Digby from such attacks, a small militia was raised. Two batteries, with two 18-pound cannons each, were installed on each side of St. George’s Strait, and one was installed where Sydney Street now is. The privateers were sitting ducks for the eight cannons waiting for them. Hence, they stopped raiding Conway.

Another fundamental reason that physicians do not choose Digby is that most physicians are married, and unless the spouse works in the medical field, there are no jobs for him or her. An unhappy spouse does not make for a pleasant family life.

One then has to go back several steps to understand why Digby does not offer gainful employment.

Digby has what I call a have-not or welfare-type mentality. By that, I mean welfare in terms of depending on the government for sustenance. A successful, affluent community generates its own income.

Current Digby industries will never bring affluence to Digby. Fishing and tourism have proven that they cannot sustain a comfortable community economy. Taxation is obviously limiting as it draws from money that is already in the community. Most retail businesses, though they provide local employment, draw from money in the community and, for the most part, direct that money away from the community, and in many instances away from Nova Scotia.

What is needed for self-sufficiency is industry that produces products that it can offer on the global marketplace. Thereby, revenue comes into the community, not from the government, but from local production of revenue.

Compare this concept to a rechargeable battery. If the community requires the government to recharge its battery, it will–maybe–get enough to keep it going. But, if the community generates its own energy supply, then, the battery stays strong.

The next obvious question is what can Digby produce for the global marketplace.

The obvious answer is tidal power. We have the highest tides in the world, yet we let it sit doing nothing. I spoke to the former executive director of the Digby Area Learning Association to see what it would take to expand DALA to put out more engineers, welders, electricians, draftsmen so that tidal power in Digby might be a reality. I asked in Digby council what it would take to build an industrial dock in Digby so that tidal turbine parts could be loaded and unloaded. The answer was miniscule, compared to the potential benefit.

Lastly, I would like to make reference to two places whose economy turned around enormously in a very short time. One is South Korea, a once poor country that now has major corporations (Samsung, Daewoo, Hundai, LG, Hyosung) that sell massive amounts of products to the world. The other is Newfoundland, a have-not province that under the direction of a premier with vision turned its economy around in half a dozen years.

We can lament all we want about the lack of doctors in Digby, but, if we do not do something to provide attractive employment and make Digby an attractive place to live, we will never have physicians.


Dr. Ron Matsusaki is emergency room physician at Digby General Hospital and a former town councilor

Organizations: Annapolis Royal, Digby Area Learning Association, Digby council Samsung Digby General Hospital

Geographic location: Digby, Bear River, Sydney Street Nova Scotia South Korea Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Kadijah Photiades
    January 16, 2014 - 08:26

    As a person"from away" I will admit to having some of the same attitudes when I first arrived here almost 18 years ago. It is another form of ignorance. I was imposing my values from the culture of where I came from on a place that was unfamiliar to me. The assumption was that my idea of culture was better than what I saw here. I came to realise that Digby is thick with it's OWN culture. This is a place of hard workers who have strong family values, a love for the out doors, who work and play hard and for the most part have strong Christian values( I am not Christian so this took some getting used to for me.) Thank you Doctor Ron for the "history lesson" I think what you described is clearly present in Digby culture. I'm not sure why you felt the need to educate us. I am afraid it often happens that those from away think they need to come here and enighten those who have been living here for generations upon generations. Digby is what it is. My understanding of why Doctors don't come to Digby is because everyone out of medical school is specialising and with that specialising comes perks like someone to do alot of the doctor grunt work. I would think that for the right person Digby would be amazing opportunity for a family practice. It would provide a steady income for SURE and the challenge of family practice would create a variety of professional challenges. If you had children they could spend alot of time in a family way and playing outdoors in a reasonably safe environment. And if you do want a little different flavour there are these wonderful towns with their own unique cultures only 20 minutes to 60 minutes away. For that matter you can live in one of those towns and commute. I know at least one doctor who has been doing that for years. Here is the other thing I know. If a doctors spouse is at all creative about making work for themselves, Digby is a wonderful place of opportunity. I have been able to own a few of my own businesses, which I would never have been successful with in Toronto( where I am from) because the competition is far too cut throat. The Community of Digby County has valued what I bring and has put me to good work. I don't have alot, but I have accomplished much more here that I could have elsewhere. In fact coming to Digby got me OFF the welfare system. Regarding tidal power. I am very afraid when someone who does not appreciate the Culture that IS Digby starts looking at it as a place to exploit the natural resources. I am not opposed to tidal power. I am not opposed to wind power either. What I am opposed to is massive extraction and disruption of our beautiful and unique eco-system. We need to find the balance of drawing on what we need from Mother Nature and protecting her and all her species. Big industry often has the same attitude as our Dr. Ron and does not deeply appreciate what is here, but only sees an opportunity to make a buck at the expense of environmental safety. I know there are ways to extract what we need in order to survive. We simply need to do this with awareness and respect for our environment. I'm not going to lie, I do miss alot of the "Culture" I am used to. I grew up in a very multicultural environment rich with a multitude of beliefs and philosophies. I do miss the diversity. So I make it a priority to travel regularly to get those very real needs met. But I am always very glad when I return to Digby County....My home!

  • Simon Doiron
    January 13, 2014 - 03:10

    Dr. Ron Good for you for having the courage to speak about this. I lived in Digby for 2 years and couldn't wait to get out. There is no life for people who would like to make a go of it there. I have been across this country many times and believe me Digby is not the prettiest place in Canada but in the minds of people from Digby it is, which it should be. So don't think people are going to flock there because the locals think "why wouldn't they want to come to a beautiful place." The reason they don't want to come is because there is nothing there. Culture is more than having a roadside bench for a dead artist, or a museum no one goes to, or a lighthouse that is one of thousands. Another impact of bad local government administration is that a mass exodus of the younger people happening. In my opinion, Digby is not managed by the town and municipality as it should be. Lots of other small communities in Canada lack resources but don't always have there hand out. Case in point, the tidal. Well that's great that there maybe a chance that this would be economical viable, but why would the Canadian and Nova Scotian taxpayer pay for this project. I say, if it is viable then private business will invest the money needed or the taxpayers of the town and county should if not to bad. If the current US environmental regulations go forward on banning Canadian lobster, crab and scallops due to the not following sea-mammal protection rules reported in the Globe and Mail, Digby's problems are going to be more serious than a doctor telling the truth about why people don't want to move or stay in Digby. But hey, it's not all bad, you do have an MLA that is going for a third provincial government pension that should bring in a few extra dollars.

  • Tammy Frost
    January 11, 2014 - 22:04

    I think he has a few good points. It may be hard to except, but true. Now the political reasons for lack of doctors, most definitely needs to be talked about. Why is it that the citizens of Digby are left in the dark. Do we not have the right to know the true facts of what is actually going on. Gossip is Dr Black. Is this true? And why? Someone must know the answers. Why not let the people of Digby know the truth. Most of us do pay taxes. Not everyone is on welfare. Though being on welfare is irrelevant to having no doctors. That is just another topic for discussion. So please someone speak out about these political reasons.

    • melissa amero
      January 12, 2014 - 13:35

      The politics that he talks about are neither provincial or federal as far as I can gather. Politics of the hospital and those that "run" it should be mentioned but aren't. The "old boys club" syndrome seems to come into play. The older docs that are there make it difficult for new drs to come in. I won't elaborate on that one either. I have to wonder what makes Digby any less appealing than Clare or Yarmouth? Neither of those have much to offer either.

  • Grete R
    January 11, 2014 - 10:25

    Well for the sake of this town and every people in need - the medical bus gave some relief in the past few month! Where are they now?!! Same place as our doctors!! If the town would offer a great" package ", a decent living : we would have doctors line up for this position!

  • Matthew MacDonald
    January 11, 2014 - 07:14

    Your ignorance insults me. As bad as this town needs doctors we do not need doctors that view our town in this way. This town was a thriving community not all that long ago but you weren't here then. You come in during a difficult period for my town and tell us we have a welfare mentality. We are hard working people looking to make a living. It's strange that you sit back collecting your government paid salery and write these things. Have you ever stood in a hay field in the hot sun throwing hay for 10$ an hour just so you could pay the rent or worked 24 hours straight on a lobster boat to provide for a family back on land? My advice to you is to learn our culture and talk to some hard working people before you write this misinformed dribble.

    • kadijah
      January 15, 2014 - 15:03

      I agree!!!

  • chris gosson
    January 10, 2014 - 23:00

    The people that run digby dont want industry eberytime someone trys they shut them down nothing will change until the ones who control everything grow up and realize that change can be a good thing and quit relying on the fishing for everthing....the only ones makin any money at that shit are the boat owners and the fish plants...been that way all my life!!! Lets grow a pair and take a chance next time a idea or industry presents an opportunity to stimulate the local economy and create some real jobs with real wages and benefits try saying yes...just an idea...if not then be prepared to see all your kids and grandkids moving out west.

  • chris gosson
    January 10, 2014 - 22:58

    The people that run digby dont want industry eberytime someone trys they shut them down nothing will change until the ones who control everything grow up and realize that change can be a good thing and quit relying on the fishing for everthing....the only ones makin any money at that shit are the boat owners and the fish plants...been that way all my life!!! Lets grow a pair and take a chance next time a idea or industry presents an opportunity to stimulate the local economy and create some real jobs with real wages and benefits try saying yes...just an idea...if not then be prepared to see all your kids and grandkids moving out west.