The first class of students in the Selkirk College Rural Pre-Medicine Program have begun their journey towards a life in health care and last month received a boost when a group of veteran physicians visited to the Castlegar Campus to provide encouragement.
In mid-September, the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues (JSC), a collaborative committee made up of the Ministry of Health and Doctors of BC, was in the region for a regular meeting. Earlier this year, the JSC provided the new Selkirk College program with $1 million in funding support. Several members of the committee took the opportunity to meet campus leadership, faculty and the 17 students in the first cohort and tour the campus.
The first Selkirk College Rural Pre-Medicine Program class gathered for a group photo with faculty, Selkirk College administration and the representatives from the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues that toured the Castlegar Campus in mid-September.
“It’s a big day and it’s humbling insomuch as we are seeing students of rural origin being educated close to home in their communities that understand their needs, their wants, their desires but also their aspirations,” said Dr. Alan Ruddiman, an Oliver-based physician and Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues co-chair.
“When we look at growing the talent locally, our investment as rural physicians in the province, the Doctors of BC, our medical association and particularly the provincial government understands that we need to look at different models of how we raise, train and support doctors in British Columbia because we are really struggling to recruit doctors to rural communities and keep them there.”
After nearly two years of study and preparation, the college launched the Rural Pre-Medicine Program last November. Based out of the Castlegar Campus, the program is geared towards addressing the rural doctor shortage across Canada and offers students the opportunity to learn in the intimate setting of a community college with unique course selections.
In creating this program, Selkirk College worked closely with the UBC Faculty of Medicine, the Rural Coordination Centre of BC (a working entity of the JSC that develops and supports strategies to improve population health in rural communities), the Native Education College, the Interior Health Authority, Columbia Basin Trust, local physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care providers.
A Program Suited for Rural Students
Joining the tour was Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital physician Dr. Blair Stanley. Born-and-raised in Trail, Stanley is the chair of the program’s advisory committee and was pleased to see the enthusiasm amongst the group of students.
“I remember how difficult it was at 17 to jump in a bus and go to Vancouver and be at a university with 30,000 students, all of which in my mind seemed to want to get into medical school,” Stanley said. “It was a daunting task and I really doubted my chance of success. Somehow I was able to struggle through and was fortunate to have gotten into medical school. It would have been a lot nicer if there was a program like the one here at Selkirk, I would have jumped at that without blinking an eye.”
Rural Pre-Medicine Program student Spencer Paolone addressed those in attendance on behalf of the class.
Though the program is new, Stanley said he is already seeing signs of how the rural focus and support for students can enable Rural Pre-Med to develop its own unique culture.
“I have this vision of some of the graduates of this program not only making it into medical school, but also being really grounded and solid people,” he said. “Not only because of their rural roots, but because of some of the learnings they will have had in this unique program. They will bring that groundedness and awareness into their clinical setting when they are looking after patients. I think that will be a magical connection that they will have with patients and the work they do.”
Selkirk Provides Only One Piece of the Puzzle
Solving the rural doctor shortage is not simple. There are many professional and lifestyle barriers that exist that are far too complicated to address in the classroom. But providing students from rural areas an opportunity to explore their passion in a program suited to the future they may end up living is key.
“The kind of doctor that works in a small community is the kind of doctor that is a little bit more comfortable with uncertainty,” said Stanley, who helps train residents at the Trail’s Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital. “Because you are working in small emergencies, you can have some pretty big acute illnesses that come to your doorstep and you don’t have all the equipment, tools and specialists that you would have in an urban centre. You have to be willing to live with a little bit of uncertainty and bring forward whatever skills you can with the resources that are available in your community to solve problems.”
Ruddiman, who has been an advocate for rural medicine for more than 20 years, agrees that the program will provide an advantage to students coming from smaller communities.
Dr. Alan Ruddiman(left), an Oliver-based physician and Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues co-chair, speaks with student Jesse McDonald during the tour of the Castlegar Campus.
“We’re on the threshold of something unique and interesting,” said Ruddiman. “There is a lot of happiness and elation in the room today, but tomorrow when we leave the serious business of studying begins. Supporting those young minds and their ability to see medicine through slightly different optics will actually put them in a very challenging and interesting position when it comes to the day of their interviews for university when they are ready to enter medicine.”
It’s now up to the students and from what Ruddiman saw early in their journey, there is great potential with the first Rural Pre-Medicine Program cohort.
“I have said to a number of these young people today, they should not see themselves as privileged, see yourself as incredibly blessed to have gained access to this program because I think they are threshold of huge opportunities,” Ruddiman said. “I don’t want the young people to undervalue that because this is the beginning of an incredible journey in their lives.”