RIG students return to Westman


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Following a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, University of Manitoba medical students representing the school’s Rural Interest Group (RIG) finally got to visit the Prairie Mountain Health region and learn from Westman physicians directly.

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Following a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, University of Manitoba medical students representing the school’s Rural Interest Group (RIG) finally got to visit the Prairie Mountain Health region and learn from Westman physicians directly.

This year’s program took place Friday and Saturday at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, where roughly 34 U of M students got a firsthand look at how to refine certain medical techniques in areas such as suturing, casting, cricothyrotomy and general family care.

These workshops were punctuated by more laid-back social events, where the students were encouraged to chat with BRHC physicians and gain a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a hospital outside of Winnipeg.

This hands-on approach came as a breath of fresh air to second-year medical student Sydney McLaughlin, whose post-secondary career has prominently featured remote learning because of COVID, including last year’s virtual RIG program.

“It was more like a Q and A session, kind of like a panel,” she told the Sun on Saturday. “But it’s really hard to teach some of these more complex skills over Zoom. Not everyone has access to sutures or fake skin to suture on, that kind of thing. So it wasn’t the same at all. This is so much more exciting for both students and physicians.”

Before the multi-year interruption brought about by the pandemic, Prairie Mountain Health officials had been hosting RIG students for roughly a decade, sending them off to medical facilities in Killarney, Neepawa, Minnedosa, Souris and Virden to highlight the benefits of working in these smaller communities.

Even though this year’s program was limited to Brandon, Dr. Adrian Fung believes he and his colleagues at the BRHC still managed to get the same point across.

Speaking as someone who was stationed in Swan River for roughly six years, Fung believes that these rural postings are tailor-made for young physicians who want to cast a wide net in terms of the care they provide, instead of getting bogged down in a single discipline.

“If you like things to be mixed up every day … that’s the kind of thing that will help you figure out if rural medicine is your cup of tea,” he said.

“That was the conversation I had with myself when I was a medical student. I found that I did enjoy doing lots of things and the idea of doing the same thing every day seemed a little bit daunting.”

While McLaughlin’s future isn’t set in stone, the U of M student told the Sun she definitely has her sights set on a rural position, since she grew up in Neepawa and much prefers that kind of working environment compared to what’s being offered in Winnipeg.

However, she also isn’t counting out the possibility of also working in Brandon, with the BRHC providing the best of both worlds by operating as a large hub that treats patients from surrounding rural communities.

“If I did fall in love with something other than family medicine, say if I wanted to go into internal medicine or specialize further into surgery … I know I could come here and I could still get a small-town feel without having to completely limit my career options,” McLaughlin said.

Outside of serving as a learning opportunity, Fung admitted that the RIG program is also designed to be a recruitment campaign of sorts, which is especially important since the health-care industry is still experiencing massive staff burnout in the wake of the pandemic.

In December, the Sun obtained an internal memo from interim Prairie Mountain Health CEO Dr. Michael Turabian, who stated that the BRHC is at an all-time low in terms of its hospitalist members, with more vacancies expected to come in the new year.

“This will have a serious impact on the services that can be provided,” Turabian wrote in a memo dated Dec. 1, 2022.

This widespread staffing shortage is even more pronounced in smaller Westman communities, where the availability of emergency medical services is rolled back or completely absent.

Last year, the people of Melita even had to endure an entire summer without access to the local health centre’s emergency room, which was eventually reopened in the fall.

However, McLaughlin said she isn’t fazed by the increasingly demanding nature of her chosen profession and believes that programs like RIG are a good way to inspire a whole new generation of rural doctors.

“Knowing that we could help our other physicians by entering this workforce and hopefully lightening this load, and by taking on some ourselves, is meaningful to me, and I think it’s meaningful to a lot of other students.”

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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