According to a new report from Dietitians of Canada, the situation in Sudbury is not uncommon for primary care dietitians in Ontario.
A survey of dietitians across the province found that only 16 per cent of primary care dietitians, like Hurley, have been in their current positions for more than five years.
The report found that 35 per cent of primary health care dietitians plan to leave their current position within the next two years, and an additional 49 per cent report they are undecided whether they will leave.
The reason for the high turnover rate across Ontario, said Hurley, is that many registered dietitians in her field feel undervalued, because they do not earn as much as other professionals in primary care who have similar levels of education.
Registered dietitians who work in family health teams make between $51,641 and $62,219 a year.
Registered nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, respiratory therapists and chiropodists, who work in the same teams, make between $55,251 and $66,568 a year.
The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care funds and determines the salary ranges, which were first set in 2005, and adjusted in 2009, when all family health team professionals received a 2.25 per cent salary increase.
But Angie Heydon, CEO of the Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario, said even at the high end, those ranges are below the rates health care professionals make in other sectors, such as hospitals.
“As a result, there is high staff turnover as professionals leave these primary care positions to work in more lucrative settings,” she said. Those settings include hospitals, public health and the Community Care Access Networks.
Dietitians of Canada argue the lower salaries for registered dietitians in the field date back an error in the salary structure that has not been corrected since 2005.
“We’re a relatively small group, and it’s always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” said Hurley.
Leslie Whittington-Carter, Dietitians of Canada’s co-ordinator of Ontario government relations, said correcting the job classification would help address the high turnover rate in primary care.
Registered dietitians need a at least a four-year bachelor degree, a one-year internship, and to complete a national exam to perform their duties.
Thirty-four per cent of dietitians working in primary care have a master’s degree, and 54 per cent specialize in diabetes education.
Hurley said registered dietitians play a vital role in managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
They also play an important role in early child development, through proper nutrition, and healthy aging.
“With seniors, for example, if we can keep them well nourished as they age, it can lead to fewer hospitalizations, shorter stays, fewer readmissions,” she said.