From left: Dr. Willa Hendry

UBC plans rural doctor program in West Kootenay

An expansion to the University of BC’s medical residency program will bring four postgraduate students per year to West Kootenay/Boundary.

An expansion to the University of BC’s medical residency program will bring four postgraduate students per year to the West Kootenay/Boundary to train as family practitioners.

The program, expected to begin next July, is in addition to an existing clinical clerkship that now sees four undergrads spend the third year of their studies in Nelson or Trail.

“The hope is many will choose to stay here,” said Dr. Willa Henry, director of UBC’s family medicine postgraduate program. “We know from research that the chances of them doing that is much higher if they’re in a community for postgrad training. I have no doubt it’s going to be a success.”

Henry said expanding the program to this area was an easy decision, helped by the “dedication and enthusiasm” shown by local physicians to training new doctors.

Although students will be placed at hospitals in Trail and Nelson, they are expected to move around the entire region for more rural experiences. After two years, they will write their certification exams.

UBC site director Dr. Cheryl Hume said the program’s expansion dovetails with Selkirk College’s recently-launched pre-medicine program and will give people from rural areas the chance to return home to train.

“That will help draw students in, allow them to get into the UBC medical training program, and then have the option of coming back to the area for undergraduate and postgraduate training,” she said. “It enhances access to physician services and is going to be a tremendous boost for physician recruitment.”

Hume said our area will need many new doctors in the coming years to meet a shortfall from retirements alone. “That’s why this is so important. We’re trying to attract people comfortable living in rural areas who will put down roots and practice here.”

The program will begin with four placements next year, and another four the following year, which combined with the clerkship program will mean 12 student doctors in the area at any given time.

Of the four third-year UBC medical students who arrived last month for one-year clerkships at the Nelson and Trail hospitals, three are originally from the Kootenays, including Nelson native Lauren Galbraith. She graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia in 2010 with a bachelor of science before enrolling in med school.

“I am ecstatic to be back at home after two years in Prince George at the northern medical program,” she said. Galbraith hopes to return to the area for the family medicine residency program once she complex her undergraduate work.

West Kootenay/Boundary will become the 18th UBC family medicine residency training site, and one of eight rural sites across BC that now trains about 300 physicians. Other locations include Fort St. John and central Vancouver Island.

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