Not content with retirement

The rewards of being a small town doctor in Nelson

Dr. Paul Walker recognized for impressive career in medicine

  • Jun. 26, 2012 7:00 p.m.

After 35 years practicing medicine in Nelson, Dr. Paul Walker shows few signs that he might be slowing down.

He was recently honoured with a Rural Long Service Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. The award recognizes doctors within their society who have worked for 20 years in rural and remote communities.

The society doesn’t have an award for 40 years of service. But the way things are going with Walker, he may well make it to that milestone.

“I failed at retirement,” the 65-year-old told the Star. “Unless I can figure out what to do with free time, I might still be working at 70.”

Walker tried to retire a couple years ago. He moved his practice from its longtime home in a heritage house at the top of Baker Street into the Nelson Medical Clinic. And he found two doctors to take over his patient list (no single doctor would take on the number of people he had).

His wife Pat, who worked with him everyday as his medical office assistant, settled nicely into retirement. But Walker jumped on opportunities to go back to work anytime his colleagues needed someone to fill in for them during a vacation.

“It’s hard when you’re used to going 110 miles an hour to slow down. Even just going the speed limit is tough, never mind trying to go slower than that,” Walker said.

He currently works eight months of the year, shuffling from office to office wherever he’s needed — and he’s always needed. From the day he arrived here, fresh out of medical school in 1976, there’s never been a lack of work for doctors.

He said even with the recent move towards mandatory rural placements for medical students, most doctors gravitate to urban centers, either because that’s where it’s easier for their partners to find work or because they want to specialize.

Many who start off in small towns move away after a decade or so.

“The 10-year crisis in medicine, like any career, is a very real thing,” Walker said. “You need to find something to keep the job interesting.”

Walker did consider returning to a big city to specialize in radiology, and even went so far as to visit a few schools. But ultimately he didn’t want to uproot his wife and their three sons.

Instead he took on responsibilities outside his practice, becoming Chief of Staff at the local hospital for a time, as well becoming involved with the Society of General Practitioners, an advocacy group for doctors.

But what really kept him going was mentoring the medical students who came to his office for their practicum and to learn about rural medicine.

“It’s easy to convince students they’ll get to do much more interesting and varied work in a rural community,” Walker said. “That’s what drew me to rural medicine, but for a lot of young people it’s terrifying.”

General Practitioners need to know about 80 per cent of what every type of medical specialist knows, and they also need to learn to live with uncertainty because they can’t know everything.

“A lot of my colleagues who have since specialized say working in general practice was the hardest part of their career,” Walker said. “For me, that’s what keeps it interesting. That’s what keeps me coming to work when I should be retired.”

Just Posted

Kootenay fires grow — more evaucation alerts

Syringa fire prompts evacuation alerts plus HWY 3 closure and U.S. fire crosses into B.C.

Evacuation alert for Syringa and Deer Park

The Syrigna Creek Fire grew Saturday resulting in evacuation alerts.

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Smoke scraps MS Bike Challenge

The annual fundraising event cancelled its cycling Saturday because of poor air quality

Nelson’s mural festival: scenes from opening night

Crowds wandered the streets and alleys finding delightful surprises in unlikely places

‘We will not forget:’ Thousands attend funeral fallen Fredericton officers

Hundreds of officials marched in the parade, which included massed band, several police motorcycles

Lions give up late TD in 24-23 loss to Argos

B.C. falls to 3-5, fumbling away last-minute chance in Toronto

Eagle tree cut down legally a 1st for B.C. city

Planned eagle preserve ‘a first for City of Surrey’

Smoky skies like a disappearing act for sights, monuments around B.C.

Haze expected to last the next several days, Environment Canada said

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday following a short illness

44 drownings so far this year in B.C.

Lifesaving Society urging caution to prevent deaths while on lakes, oceans and in pools

Some of B.C.’s air quality levels worse than Jodhpur, India

Okanagan, northern B.C. seeing some of the worst air quality globally

VIDEO: Ground crews keep a close eye on largest B.C. wildfire

Originally estimated to be 79,192 hectares, officials said more accurate mapping shows smaller size

Most Read