The regional health community has come together to deal first hand with a projected doctor shortage.
Dr. Cheryl Hume is the director of the new Kootenay Boundary Rural Family Practice Residency Program that has just welcomed its first crew of rural family practice residents.
“The whole intent of the program is to train fully competent and confident physicians who will enter into rural family practice and provide essential primary care in rural areas,” she said.
Statistics suggest that Trail, Fruitvale and Rossland will have to recruit about seven general practitioners over the next year, she said, while Nelson will look to secure another nine. Hume adds that all together the region will need 25 new professionals.
To set up a certified two-year University of British Columbia program is a major accomplishment for the long-time Trail doctor, who just left clinical practice after 28 years of dedication to her patients.
“It’s very interesting and it’s a real privilege to be a rural doctor,” she said. “It’s a demanding job and it takes someone who has adventurous and courageous spirit.
“Rural doctors have to cope with a lot of stuff that urban doctors don’t have to cope with because they’re often on their own,” she added. “Many of them have advanced skill training in lots of different things and they are very adept or they have to learn to become confident and competent in dealing with stuff that’s quite broad ranging in terms of the skill sets that are demanded.”
The regional approach to the program has the doctors working in Trail, Nelson and remote areas in between.
Dr. Hume considers rural doctors to be full-service care providers, citing the work covered from emergency, obstetrical, general primary outpatient and knowing how to function in clinic and then in hospital settings.
Above all, she said, it’s their duty to be a constant advocate for their patients.
“To do that year in, year out, day in, day out over many years is a big job,” she admits.
“When those kinds of people retire or leave practice, it leaves a big hole. Family doctors are the foundation for the health care system.”
The program will attract these professionals to the region but ultimately the community has to win them over. That’s where Terry Van Horn, economic development officer for Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation, fits in.
Under the Lower Columbia Community Development Team Society, the health and hospital committee has been committed to finding a way of really welcoming medical professionals in a way that will make a lasting impression.
In collaboration with some like-minded people, they’ve come up with a welcome bag that provides information on recreation, employment opportunity (for other members of their family) and other key points about the region. The grab bag also contains treats and coupons to various businesses across the region to get these individuals out making connections.
“We have to find ways to stand out, to be different from other communities,” said Van Horn. “It’s not enough to say that we have beautiful recreation because the entire province does.
“We have to create an experience that they’re going to remember.”
The ultimate goal is to roll the welcome concept forward into other sectors so that a company trying to solicit skilled professionals to the region, has somewhere to start.
The health and hospital committee was also instrumental in securing grant money toward supporting two years of accommodation to simplify housing needs for the rural family practice residents.
The first welcome bags were doled out last week when the four rural family practice residents were joined by three medical students from the Integrated Clinical Clerkship (ICC) program.
In its fifth year running, ICC invites third-year medical student to rural medical offices and hospitals for hands-on training.
Unlike a traditional block rotation where a student would work in one area of the hospital for a time then move on to another, the integrated clerkship allows a student to work with patients through the entire care cycle—from diagnosis to treatment and follow-up.
Dr. Hume suggests enticing medical professionals with programs like this is only half of the equation. The community needs to convince them to stay after their stint.
“What happens often is that we have to be careful that we really welcome and include these people in the community and that we make their experience happy for them so they’re encouraged to stay and that they establish and set up,” she said.