New Kootenay degree aims to encourage rural doctors

Selkirk College will launch a three-year pre-med program that aims to ease the doctor shortage in rural communities such as Cranbrook

Starting in September, students hoping to pursue a career in rural medicine will be able to take advantage of a Kootenay associate degree tailored to ease the doctor shortage in the region.

Earlier this month, Selkirk College announced a first-of-its-kind pre-med program at its Castlegar campus.

The three-year program will prepare students to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and make them admissible to the University of British Columbia medical doctor program.

At the conclusion of the program, students will come out with an associate degree in science and an advanced diploma in rural health sciences.

More than that, the program also includes courses that are tailored to practising rural medicine, such as small business management.

“Our vision is to offer a comprehensive program that will prepare and support rural and Aboriginal undergraduates to apply to medical school, succeed in medical school and ultimately practice as rural physicians,” said Selkirk College president Angus Graeme.

Students enrolled in the program will have opportunities for community placements and participation in rural health research projects. They will also be trained in developing skills such as leadership, mediation, team building and resiliency.

The curriculum was put together by experts in rural medical education, and will benefit from $1 million funding from the B.C. government and the Doctors of B.C.

“As an ER physician who has worked for over a decade in a remote community, I understand the challenges and the rewards of rural practice,” said Dr. William Cunningham, president of Doctors of B.C. “This initiative is one part of the work being done to bring long-term solutions to physician recruitment and retention.”

“We recognize the challenges faced by rural communities in recruiting and retaining doctors,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “The new program at Selkirk College recognizes that people who have roots in rural B.C. are more likely to stay in those communities and this program is an innovative way to encourage rural students to pursue their interest in medicine.”

The program will begin in September with 24 students; enrolment is now open. For more information visit www.selkirk.ca/program/rural-pre-medicine.

The Selkirk pre-med program is an initiative of the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, which aims to encourage physicians to live and practise in rural communities in B.C.

Cranbrook is one of many rural and remote B.C. communities facing a doctor shortage. There are currently no family physicians here who are accepting new patients.

Estimates are that at least 1,000 people in Cranbrook are without a family doctor and are forced to visit the hospital emergency department with all medical complaints. There is no walk-in clinic in Cranbrook.