Last week, first year medical students fanned out across the province for Rural Week. This is a program for first year Dalhousie medical students to expose them early in their career to the realities of rural practice. If we can ignite the fire for comprehensive rural medicine early, we can help sustain this important service in our communities. Each year in May, the medical students spend a week experiencing living, working, practicing in rural communities across Nova Scotia.
“We established this program in 2019 to promote family medicine as a career option and to increase the exposure early to the joys of rural medicine,” says Katherine Stringer, Head of the Department of Family medicine for Dalhousie University Medical School. “The program was started in direct response to declining enrolment in family medicine and is a great way to highlight physician practice and lifestyle outside of urban centers. From what we can see, it is a contributing part to the subsequent increase in Dalhousie students who are now selecting family medicine as their career path. We owe much of this success to physicians and communities across the province who volunteer their time to make a lasting impact on our medical students,” she says.
To celebrate Rural Week, Nova Scotia Health’s Physician Recruitment Team worked closely with community partners to host various events across the province. It’s important to showcase the many ways Nova Scotia is More than Medicine+ and highlight the wonderful lifestyles these communities have to offer. Local physicians and medical residents ensured the students had exposure to the many clinical aspects of community medicine and offered suturing clinics and and plastering/casting workshops. In the evenings, the students were entertained with community dinners, pub nights, running clubs, hikes, tours, and other social events during their placements.
Dr. Justin Blaauwendraat, Family Physician in Truro, has been a physician assessor for Rural Week since the program was established. Every year, he looks forward to showcasing his community and the full scope of medicine in multiple clinical settings.
“This week is important because it provides an opportunity to experience the unique rewards and challenges of practicing in a rural setting,” said Dr. Blaauwendraat. “It is an inspiring week for the students early on in their career as they potentially identifying pathways of medicine that they may not have considered pursuing until now. Equally in return, I am re-inspired and reminded of the core values of why we pursue medicine in the first place. The ‘fresh enthusiasm’ the students bring throughout the week is rejuvenating, especially in the challenging times we are experiencing as physicians in our current landscape.”
Dr. Blaauwendraat said conversations with the medical students focus on the connectiveness of relationships with patients and how physicians may interact with them more frequently in their towns and communities and how to navigate those interactions.
“Rural physicians are often treating the patient as part of a longer continuum impacted by multiple social and community factors,” said Dr. Blaauwendraat. “We also display the cohesive and personable relationships with our colleagues and specialists while at work, but also outside of the clinic or hospital setting. For students to experience firsthand the benefits of those relationships and how they contribute to patient outcomes and workplace satisfaction is a very rewarding opportunity that Rural Week provides.”
Medical student Luke, originally from Auckland, New Zealand, expressed excitement about his placement in Liverpool and looked forward to exploring rural medicine in the province and what it entails.
“I am happy to see that physicians are held to such high regard in rural communities,” said Luke.
Originally from Antigonish, Carly’s placement was in her hometown. She has an interest in family medicine, but she is keen to explore other specialties.
“Rural medicine allows for patients and doctors to have longitudinal relationships and help the community as a whole,” said Carly.
Marika, originally from Truro also spent her Rural Week placement in her hometown. She is interested in rural medicine and reflected fondly about her upbringing in rural Nova Scotia.
“I am excited to return the generosity and support to my community,” said Marika.
Providing an opportunity for medical students to experience rural placements is instrumental in attracting physicians to underserved communities throughout Nova Scotia. By introducing medical students to Nova Scotia’s friendly communities and beautiful places and allow them to begin picturing what their ideal practice might look like in our province.
Nova Scotia Health sincerely thanks our community partners, physicians and residents, Dalhousie University, and clinics for their participation in this year’s Rural Week!