Medical students visit Moosomin

October 30, 2023, 1:57 pm
Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mayor Larry Tomlinson being interviewed for a video being made by SMA during the medical student visit.

Attraction and retention of medical professionals is a major issue facing many communities, and the Saskatchewan Medical Association has one plan they believe might help.

The SMA’s Roadmap Program showcases rural and regional centres throughout the province, giving medical students a taste of not only what working in a small town feels like, but also the lifestyle of communities outside the big cities.

“The program is geared towards medical students and family medicine residents,” explained Delilah Cerniuk, Community Engagement Coordinator with SMA.

“The primary goal is exposure to rural Saskatchewan. It gives the students an opportunity to not only learn about practice in rural and regional areas in Saskatchewan, but also familiarize themselves with Saskatchewan in general—outside of the two urban centres.”

Working with local health officials, the SMA organizes one-day tours for medical students.

Moosomin had their day to shine on Oct. 21, which was also the first time in the Roadmap Program’s 13 years that the crew came to town.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Dr. Kristin Foy, who has been a family physician in Moosomin since 2017.

“I participated in it when I was a medical student, and loved it. It gave me the opportunity to see various communities and meet the physicians, gain some contacts. It gives the students an opportunity as well to form better relationships with each other.”

Foy grew up in Moosomin, so she grew up with some knowledge of what rural medicine looks like.

“A lot of these students have either never been in some of these rural areas because they might not be from Saskatchewan initially, or they just need some more exposure to learn what it would be like to practice in some of these areas,” Cerniuk said.

The majority of participants in the program are first or second-year medical students doing their training. During their Moosomin visit, the 31 students toured the hospital and participated in some clinical skill sessions. They also saw the clinic and explored the town, plus sat in on presentations from Dr. Foy and some of the medical residents.

“Moosomin is one of our resident training sites, so it’s important that these students learn about the training sites,” Cerniuk explained. “Perhaps one day, they might match to a family medicine training site and it might be Moosomin, so they were able to learn a lot more about the residency training site there and engage with those residents.”

Dr. Foy noted the importance of reaching medical students early in their studies and why exposing them to rural medicine is so valuable.

“All medical students do have to do a short rural family medicine rotation, but that’s not until their third year of med school, and by then they might already have decided what they want to do in terms of a specialty,” she explained. “This program provides a nudge to medical students to consider rural family medicine as a career option.”

Planting such seeds early can help students make better-informed decisions when it comes time to narrow down a career path.

“Going into med school, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that I would be a family physician, or a rural physician even,” Dr. Foy said. “Along the way, I continued to gain experiences and exposure into rural family medicine and really felt like that was the correct choice for me.”

The diversity in a rural setting was one part of the job that enticed her.

“Especially in rural family medicine, you have to know about a lot of topics,” Foy added.

“There’s a lot of variety in the day and in the week, which is something that I enjoy - no two days are the same! I like living in a small community. There’s no commute, it’s also nice to know everyone.”

Busy day for students
Foy said the day was busy for the students.

“We had some skills stations to start with—thank you to Dr. Erika Roets, Denise Kruppi, and three of our South East residents (Cara Fallis, Stephanie Asence, and Natasha Premji of Weyburn for helping to facilitate these.

“We had a delicious pizza lunch from Wiebe’s sponsored by the Healthcare Foundation, which was greatly appreciated.

“Mayor Larry Tomlinson and EDO Casey McCormac came and told the students more about the community and Trent Truscott, who is our local director with the SHA, was also able to stop in and speak highly of the medical community here.

“The residents and myself provided a hospital tour then were able to chat more with the students about what our medical community and residency program is like and what it’s like to practice rural medicine.

“We took a little bus tour down Main Street and ended up at the Sportsplex. Joy Hamilton-Flaman came to provide a guided tour of the teepee with some of the students. Students were otherwise able to enjoy the simulators and bowling. Supper was at the Sportsplex and was excellent. There was also a film crew there, who are putting together a video for the SMA, so I look forward to seeing footage of that once complete.”

She said the medical students enjoyed the swag bags and prizes donated by Moosomin Chamber of Commerce members, which included everything from gift cards to art to homemade jams and jellies.

“We gave out the swag bags, which were a hit,” said Foy. “Thank you so much to everyone who donated to these and to Wendy Lynd from the Healthcare Foundation for assembling these. Cara and Stephanie led some fun trivia for some of the bigger items (backpacks and coolers filled with goodies) and there were lots of laughs and some friendly competition. Finally, the Healthcare Foundation provided snack bags for the bus ride back to Regina.”

“Overall, it was an excellent day,” said Cerniuk. “I think a lot of students, as well as myself, opened up our eyes to Moosomin itself and everything the town has to offer.”

Part of that warm welcome included a meeting with Mayor Larry Tomlinson and an amazing outpouring of giveaways and draw items from members of the Moosomin Chamber of Commerce.

“The students were very appreciative,” said Dr. Foy, noting special thanks to the Chamber and various businesses who donated items for the students, the local Home Ec class who also donated items and the Healthcare Foundation for assembling the items into the bags for distribution.

“I think everyone was really appreciative and they enjoyed their time. They were very happy and pleased with the goodie bags.”

Helping address a complex problem
Experiences like the Roadmap Program also serve a more critical role due to the shortage of family physicians in rural Saskatchewan. With statistics showing fewer medical students choosing to work in family medicine, these exposure missions are a great way to show the many benefits of small town life.

“There is a crisis in family medicine. The solutions are multi-faceted and complex, but the Roadmap Program is one tool CORPP (the SMA’s Committee on Rural and Regional Practice) can support that aims to make a difference in rural healthcare,” said Dr. Sean Groves in a media release about the program. Dr. Groves is the CORPP chair and a family physician in La Ronge.

“The Roadmap Program acquaints medical students to the diversity of care that rural physicians provide their patients,” he continued. “Hopefully, students come away from the experience contemplating a career in rural family medicine.”

SMA president Dr. Annette Epp echoed these sentiments.

“Rural and regional family medicine is vital to our health care system. Through the Roadmap Program, medical students and residents experience first hand the opportunities and challenges that come with practicing in a rural and regional centre,” she said in a media release.

“The SMA is committed to sustaining and supporting rural and regional physicians through programs such as Roadmap.”

The rural visits are also a great way to establish networks that may come in handy down the road as the students progress in their journey.

“The more exposure we can give them, the more connections they can make there,” Cerniuk said.

“They can get to know the local physicians and some of the residents. It imprints on them —they’re going to remember these things when it comes to making decisions in the future.

Such connections may lead to a job shadowing experience, or a future application to a residency program; maybe even an eventual practice in the community.

“I’m sure only a small proportion will actually end up doing rural family medicine, but hopefully we at least opened their eyes that this is a good career option,” Dr. Foy said.

“If they are ever interested in coming back to Moosomin as a community, we certainly have opportunities here as well.”

Given the more concentrated medical community in Saskatchewan, networking opportunities and lasting strong connections come easy.

“The medical community in Saskatchewan feels fairly small, and you run into the same people again and again,” Dr. Foy said, adding that she recognized some of the students from previous virtual teaching sessions she was part of.

“It’s fun to keep seeing the people over and over again; follow their journeys and encourage them to do rural family medicine, but you never know where they end up.”

The Moosomin Roadmap tour was one of three slated for this year, with previous tours in Prince Albert back in August and Meadow Lake in September. Melfort is scheduled as the next destination, coming up in February.