April 25, 2017 • 0 Comments

• Written by Jonathan Koch

From its inception in 1992, the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP) has served a critical role through its support of rural Alberta community health care attraction and retention, and education initiatives for rural health care professionals.

The Alberta Rural Physician Award of Distinction was launched in 2002 as part of a larger strategy aimed at keeping physicians in rural Alberta communities. The award recognizes rural physicians who provide Alberta's rural communities with outstanding medical services, and who also make significant contributions to their communities. 

What does it take to be a Rural Physician of Distinction?

In 2007, Drumheller physician, Dr. Lawrence Olfert, was selected based on his passion for rural medicine, his outstanding support of rural medical education and his role modeling for shadowing medical students in the Drumheller community.

An article in the Summer 2007 issue of RPAP News profiled Dr. Olfert, exploring the Drumheller physician's path to rural medicine:

Drumheller Physician Selected for Award of Distinction

This Drumheller physician received his Fellowship in Family Practice in December and is an inspiration to many.

Lawrence Olfert was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and grew up on a nearby farm before attending the University of Saskatchewan. Early on, he showed signs of becoming a great doctor when he was one of the first in Canada to successfully challenge the CCFP exam with just one year of rotating internship and one year of family practice residency. Normally, a physician had to do two years of residency. Olfert practiced in Unity, Saskatchewan for three years before going to UBC to take the second year of family practice medicine residency, thus enabling him to get his certification in family practice and to be able to practise in Alberta.

Once his residency training was complete, Olfert selected Drumheller for his practice and has been there since 1978.

“Having practised in Unity (a town of about 2,500) with just a 10-bed hospital, I knew that I wanted to practice in a hospital with more diagnostic abilities such as lab and xray so I could use more of my skills. I purposely picked a town with a population between 3,000 and 10,000 so I would have a hospital with the equipment and the backup specialists,” says Olfert.

Olfert is part of a twelve-physician practice group in Drumheller with specialists in surgery, Ob/Gyn, internal medicine, and radiology. Olfert’s practice profile includes obstetrics, internal medicine, paediatrics, psychiatry, palliative care, and Emergency. He is part of the C-section team that  operates 24/7 and has been the local chief of staff and in administration since 1982.

When regionalization took place, he was also Medical Director for Health Authority #5 until the province’s health regions were condensed and he became Assistant Medical Director of David Thompson Health Region.

An area of professional interest for Olfert is supporting medical progress. One of the first projects he got involved with was the Big Country Outreach program, which is now fully housed in Drumheller. Using a multidisciplinary team approach, this program supports children with multiple, complex needs – the only program of its kind in Alberta. Olfert has also been a proponent of Telehealth over the years, starting in the early 1990’s as part of the initial pilot project between Drumheller and the UofC.

Olfert is helping to train and mentor medical students and residents. He is a clinical instructor for the Rural Alberta South program and also teaches medical students from UofC. With the David Thompson Health Region, Olfert chairs the medical quality management committee (M.A.C.) and serves on the regional quality management committee and medication safety committee. He is also on the AMA Towards Optimal Practice Committee.

Olfert, along with two brothers, is a part-time farmer on a 1,000 acre hobby farm in Saskatchewan. He likes big game hunting, skiing and has season tickets to the Flames hockey games. Olfert and his wife Agnes have been married since 1969. Agnes administers the family business, farm and helps to keep him organized. The couple has three children...

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Dr. Olfert continues to practise in Drumheller today.

Click here to view the entire RPAP Rural Physician Award of Distinction playlist and other great videos on our YouTube channel.


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