Why these young doctors are choosing rural practice over life in the city

Medical authorities are trying to convince young doctors to put down roots in rural towns, and some are taking them up on their offer.

Smaller areas offer wider range of duties for residents just starting out

Kerry-Lynn Williams and Michael Curran will be residents in Happy Valley-Goose Bay starting in July. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Some medical students are preaching the benefits of practising in small communities, echoing requests from hospitals across the country for doctors to put down rural roots.

Several students attending the 26th Annual Rural and Remote Medicine Course in St. John's Thursday shared their plans to practise outside of major metropolitan centres once they graduate.

The course, held by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, features dozens of sessions aimed at physicians practising in small towns and remote areas around the world, as well as students who hope to have similar careers. 

Michael Curran is one such student. A fourth-year medical student at Memorial University, Curran plans to head to Happy Valley-Goose Bay this July to start his career.

He's attracted to the wide scope of responsibility that exists for doctors in rural areas.

In a place like Labrador, he said, doctors can handle everything from emergency care, fly-in community care and helping out with surgeries, and they often have the opportunity to follow patients long-term.

"I couldn't imagine a better place to work than Goose Bay," Curran said. "Generalism is what I'm interested in, and it's certainly been one of my most positive experiences in medical school, practising there."

Doctors interested in rural medicine attend a session at the 26th Annual Rural and Remote Medicine Course in St. John's on Thursday. (CBC)

Kerry-Lynn Williams is also heading to Labrador in July, and she said she's looking forward to the experience.

"I was lucky to be exposed to Goose Bay through my clerkship training, and there was nowhere else I could see myself as a resident," Williams said.

"The broad scope of practice is something that's really appealing, and the town itself is a nice fit for our personalities and our lifestyle. I would choose rural over urban going forward."

Rural doctors needed

According to James Rourke, director of MUN's Centre for Rural Health Studies, the need for rural doctors is ongoing, both in the province and across the country.

"Rural doctors are in short supply all over Canada, so we have to make sure that everything we do here works, from recruitment and education, to make it successful here," said Rourke.

MUN's James Rourke says the key to getting rural doctors to stay in small communities is supporting them once they're on the ground. (Ramona Dearing/CBC)

He said MUN has one of the best track records in the country at training and developing skills for doctors to work in rural areas, but that more doctors are still needed in the province.

"We don't have enough doctors here," he said. "We still need more rural doctors."

One of the keys to continued success in those areas is not just attracting doctors, but getting them to stay for a long time. 

"Any time is good, but it's so important to the patients to have doctors stay for three, four, five, 10 or in my case 25 years in the same community," he said. "Because the patients really find that length of care is so important."

With files from Ramona Dearing