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UBC addressing Okanagan doctor shortage by training physicians in rural communities

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is working to address the doctor shortage in B.C.’s Interior by training doctors in communities facing shortages.

The Okanagan South UBC family practice residency program was established in 2016 and is based in Penticton.

Four Canadian medical school graduates are selected to complete their two-year residency training in the South Okanagan. While there are no guarantees, many of the residency students end up practicing medicine in the same communities in which they trained.

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Nolan Rau, 25, is a Penticton native who returned to the South Okanagan to complete his residency after completing his undergraduate studies and medical school in Saskatoon, Sask. Rau said he has been taken under the wing of local doctors in a variety of fields.

“With our residency, we do a little bit of everything. So we will work with the internal medicine specialists, the surgeons, the pediatricians, with all the obstetricians and the gynecologists, and then we also spend at least one half day a week back in a family medicine clinic that we are attached to either in Penticton or Summerland,” he said on Tuesday.

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Rau said doctors are also trained at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) in Oliver, B.C. The rural hospital has faced staff shortages in the past, prompting the temporary closure of the ER on occasion.

“In our second year, we start venturing out a little bit more. So we do some time at the prison there, we do some time in the Oliver emerg [sic], and then we actually do four months of rural practice somewhere within B.C. as well, so some students will go to Oliver and Osoyoos, he said.

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Rau said the program is one of the solutions to coping with the retirement of general practitioners and the shortage of replacements in the Okanagan Valley.

Most recently, staff at the Beach Avenue Medical Clinic said it would close on March 31, when the current owner and medical director retires. The four other doctors who practice at the clinic have announced they are re-locating to other communities.

Rau said the program is successful in the recruitment and retention of new doctors to the Okanagan.

“Having that familiarity, and building those relationships we’re building with all of our specialist colleagues and all of the other family doctors, really does make it enticing and attractive to stay somewhere like this,” he said.

“There is one resident who is graduating this year that’s going to be in Princeton. We have another resident that is going to be starting in OK Falls next year and then another one that I think is staying and doing some locuming in the area,” he said.

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“So out of the four that are graduating this year, three are planning to stay around the area, which is really cool.”

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Rau, who plans to practice as a family doctor upon graduation, said the future of family practice will look different from the past.

“There’s a big movement for sure towards these interdisciplinary teams, having pharmacists, nurses and social workers and dieticians working together under the same roof,” he said.

“There is some work with that being done right now with the primary care networks they’re building in Penticton and throughout the province, and so it’s pretty exciting to see how that’s going to unfold over the next several years.”

Residency students who train in the South Okanagan can also quality for student loan forgiveness.

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