Stettler gives medical students taste of life in rural communities

The Stettler hospital and the community welcomed 56 nursing and physician students from Edmonton last Saturday

LIFE ON THE COLONY — At the Lone Pine Hutterite Colony

LIFE ON THE COLONY — At the Lone Pine Hutterite Colony

The Stettler hospital and the community welcomed 56 nursing and physician students from Edmonton last Saturday for a day of skills training and experience in a rural area.

“It is our hope that students will consider a rural Alberta placement, such as Stettler, after graduation,” said Aubrey Brown, the executive director of the Stettler Regional Board of Trade and Community Development.

Mostly from the University of Alberta and some from Grant MacEwan University, students in first or second year of studies engaged in skills day, organized by Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan and the Stettler Regional Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee — and financially supported by the Town of Stettler and the County of Stettler.

“This exposure to a rural health facility may potentially lead one of these students to one day return to our area as a nurse or physician,” said Coun. Greggory Jackson, who represents the county on the local physician recruitment committee.

“I think the positive responses and experiences voiced by the students only reinforces the professional dedication our local medical staff is known for.”

Medical staff also shared the benefits of small rural towns to pursue a medical career.

“We hope we can entice you to come to rural Alberta,” said Dr. Alasdair Drummond, chief of medical staff and practising in Stettler for 20 years.

“The nice thing about small towns is that they are quiet and safe.”

Including a tour of Stettler with town councillors Jackson and Leona Thorogood, and to Lone Pine Hutterite Colony north of Gadsby, students gained a deeper appreciation for rural communities like Stettler.

While students have more years ahead at university, the initiation to rural life at an early stage is widely promoted at the U of A.

“Our hope is that students will enjoy this experience and consider more training in a small community,” said Charley Switzer, a U of A student from Oyen, who co-leads a special interest group to encourage graduates to enter rural medicine.

“If students don’t experience it, they’re less likely to choose to practise in a rural area.”

“Every hospital in these small towns needs physicians and other medical professions,” said High River’s Lee Rehak, a co-leader.

Since the skills day was started in 2004, Saturday was the first time nursing students participated.

“Hopefully, we can make this interesting, so nurses want to come to rural areas,” said Rosemary Burness, medical students initiatives co-ordinator for RPAP.

“We have nursing students on this trip definitely looking for rural positions.”

At least two of the students were enticed to rural communities.

“Before, I was adamant about working in a large community,” said Brittany Walsh, a second-year nursing student from St. Albert, now converted to rural practice.

“I like a small-knit community and it’s good to build rapport and you get to practise everything is rural areas.”

A first-year medical student was also attracted to small rural service.

“A rural community is something I would choose to work — the closeness of a small town brings people together,” said Bretton Hari of High River.

Two local Grade 11 students from William E. Hay Composite High School in Stettler also got hands-on experience as they contemplate their future fields.

“It’s a good opportunity to consider career options for the future,” Amy Son said.

“This is good to learn some of these skills,” Elly Bak said.

Over the years, the program has been a valuable tool to recruit professionals to rural areas.

“Skills days are an integral part of RPAP’s support of medical students and these opportunities tie in well with our community engagement initiatives,” said David Kay, the executive-director of RPAP.

“By liaising with community groups, local area health-care facilities and Alberta Health Services, RPAP is able to provide hundreds of students every year a chance to experience real-world skills development in a rural community, which, for many, is their first experience outside an urban centre.”

RPAP regularly helps host rural skills days for first- and second-year medical students who are attending the universities of Calgary and Alberta.

Such skills days are seen by both the participants and the communities that co-host them as an opportunity for students to see some of the many benefits of living and working in some of Alberta’s rural communities.