British Columbia

B.C. doctor who returned to her small hometown to practice shares ideas on how to get others to do the same

A doctor raised in northern B.C. has decided to open a clinic in her hometown of Smithers, B.C. She says the ability to live in the region while she was training was key to her decision to stay.

Exposing kids from rural communities to the possibility of a career in medicine is key, family physician says

Dr. Mallory Quinn (centre) says a large part of her decision to return to her hometown of Smithers, B.C., to practice family medicine stems from the training she received at the Northern Medical Program in Prince George. (Dr. Mallory Quinn)

As rural communities across the province struggle with doctor shortages, a new practice in the northwestern B.C. community of Smithers may point to a way out of the problem. 

This is where I'm supposed to live and create my life.- Dr. Mallory Quinn

The new clinic is being led by Dr. Mallory Quinn, who recently returned to her hometown after graduating from the University of British Columbia's Northern Medical Program in Prince George.

Quinn said although she wanted to be a doctor since she was thirteen, it wasn't until a visit home last year that she considered opening a practice in the town of just over 5,000.

"I had gone for a hike with a few girlfriends, and returned home that evening and just had a moment of 'This is where I'm supposed to live and create my life,' " she told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

By the next day, she said, the paperwork was in motion for the Northern Roots Medical Clinic, which started accepting patients Monday.

Province-wide shortage

Quinn said she believes the clinic, which includes two other doctors, will be able to accept all of the estimated 1,500 people in the region without a family physician. 

Aside from a lack of family doctors, the town has also been without a walk-in clinic since 2015. 

This has meant that people are visiting the local emergency room for non-emergency issues, putting a strain on staff there, a situation seen in other smaller communities across B.C.

A Kamloops walk-in clinic was unable to accept patients in 2017 due to a doctor shortage. (CBC)

Province-wide, it's estimated up to 15 per cent of the population has no family doctor.

Train doctors from the places they're needed

UBC's Northern Medical Program was created to address doctor shortages in the north by exposing students to the possibility of practicing outside urban centres and making it easier for people from the region to become doctors.

Quinn says she doubts she would have returned to Smithers without the program.

"I think it's the main reason that I did stay," she said. "It opens your eyes, when you work in these small towns, as to what the challenges and benefits are."

Thirty-two students are accepted annually into the University of British Columbia's Northern Medical Program in Prince George. (UNBC/Northern Medical Program)

She also said it's important to expose kids from smaller communities to the possibility of a career in medicine.

"The home-grown aspect is not to be undervalued," she said.

Still, simply training doctors in the region doesn't get them to stay. A CBC investigation in 2011 found that of the first 24 students to graduate the program, only five had opened a practice in northern B.C.

A later study from UBC found improvements: nearly two-thirds of fully licensed graduates chose to practice family medicine in rural and northern British Columbia. But shortages remain.

Offering support

Quinn said another important aspect of her decision was the ability to find two other doctors to practice with her, so each one can be guaranteed time off and support.

​"There is concern about physician burnout and overloading at the start of your career," Quinn said.

Group recruitment has been used in northeast B.C. where, last year, medical clinics in both Fort St. John and Dawson Creek announced the arrival of three new doctors.

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