Dr. Desmond Whalen always knew he would practise medicine in a small community, just like the one he grew up in.
“When the area where I grew up was hit by Hurricane Igor in 2010, I went home to help with the efforts,” said Dr. Whalen.
“As I saw people in our community struggle to fill prescriptions, or visit their doctor because the road had been washed out, I knew that delivering health care in a rural community was the path I wanted to take.
When, as a student, Dr. Whalen was accepted to medical school at Memorial, he says he made it his “end goal” to be a rural doctor. He did community rotations in rural areas, outreach with rural high school students to encourage them to go into medicine, research in rural recruitment and retention, and as many rural clinical electives as he could.
Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine works hard at encouraging physicians, like Dr. Whalen, to practise in non-urban areas.
And, for the sixth time, the faculty has received a prestigious national award for its efforts. The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC) has awarded Memorial with the Keith Award, given annually to a Canadian postgraduate medical program that has excelled in producing rural doctors.
The Keith Award looks at the largest number of graduates practising in rural areas 10 years after graduation. As the top medical school in the country, Memorial’s average between 2007-17 was 45 per cent; the national average was 22 per cent.
The right programs
Memorial’s postgraduate residency training program in family medicine is a unique training model that includes stream sites in Newfoundland and Labrador ranging from the eastern, central and western regions, as well as the NorFam training centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, and the Nunafam residency in Nunavut.
These locations allow training residents to complete the majority, if not all, of their training in a particular geographical area. The Rural Medical Education Network is a virtual component of the Faculty of Medicine overseeing the development and co-ordination of the distributed education activities across regional training sites.
As well, the doctor of medicine program at Memorial provides a spiral curriculum with rural content interwoven with clinical skills, an innovative curriculum that incorporates a narrative approach allowing students to learn about the people and places of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Connecting with communities
The Faculty of Medicine is also partnering with Eastern Health to hold an educational retreat in Burin this month.
“Because we are community inspired, the Faculty of Medicine has always made rural medicine training a priority.”
It includes 16 residents from the eastern stream, along with faculty, administrators and representatives from local communities. The workshop covers medical topics and procedures, but also offers the residents the opportunity to meet and connect with local people.
“Because we are community inspired, the Faculty of Medicine has always made rural medicine training a priority,” said Dr. Margaret Steele, dean of the faculty.
“It’s part of our commitment to do even more to engage with and listen to the people and populations we serve, connecting our research, teaching and learning, and service priorities with their health needs and concerns.”
“If Memorial can be the avenue to train students and residents in rural places, the communities will draw them back. It’s the originality of the people, and the culture of the places that keeps graduates there 10 years out and longer,” added Dr. Whalen.
The award was presented at the annual Rural and Remote Medicine Course in St. John’s, N.L., last month.