Milk River is about an hour drive south of Lethbridge on a 4 lane divided highway, and just 15 minutes north of the US border. About 850 people live in town with many more in the outlying areas.
Here to greet you is T-Rex. And today, he welcomes 49 healthcare students from Calgary as they arrive at the Milk River Health Centre. The students are from University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and SAIT.
They’re here for a skills day workshop hosted by the Health Centre, the Quad Municipality Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee, and RhPAP.
Students spend 45 minutes at each of the six skill stations: suturing, wound care, IV starts, physiotherapy, intubation, and spinal immobilization.
Mark Simons, a physician assistant at the Milk River Health Centre, teaches suturing. “It’s a new skill set so you have to lay down the muscle memory of having to do new things. It’s interesting to see people who’ve never done it before trying to do it. Not so long ago, I was like that too.”
Lori Tremble, an RN at the Milk River Health Centre, who spends some of her time in long term care, taught wound care. “A lot of the wounds that we see are the ones that I will be teaching today which is a pressure ulcer, otherwise known as a bed sore."
Bailey Balog, another RN at the Milk River Health Centre, taught IV starts. “I really loved it. The students were so enthusiastic. We had some really good IV starts. It was a lot of fun and I hope we can do it again in the future.”
Students enjoyed the opportunity to expand their skill set.
“I love skills day", says Vaneet Randhawa, a first year med student at the University of Calgary. "I think it’s one of the highlights since I started medical school. We are able to give each other IV’s. We are able to give each other sutures. These are different activities that we aren’t able to do everyday.”
Mohit Kumar, also a first year med student at the U. of C., loved the skills event. “It was fantastic. I feel like I learned so much, so quickly. I feel like all of the skills we’re learning are going to be super relevant for our clinical practice, not only as future doctors, but right now as trainees.”
Leah Potter, a 2nd year nursing student at Mount Royal University in Calgary says “It was amazing. We got to learn many skills that we wouldn’t get to learn until later years.”
In the evening, the students are the guests of a community dinner at the civic centre where they hear locals praise the Milk River health care workforce.
“One of the best things about everytime I had to be in the hospital was the familiarity of the nurses. They know everybody that comes in that door,” says Amy Horgus, Chair of the Quad Municipality Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee, in her speech to the students and community members.
Audrey Turner, whose son was seriously injured in a car accident, shares her gratitude to the local healthcare team, “We cannot thank you enough, each and every one of you.”
Then things got scary. The students venture to Creepy Hollow, north of the Village of Warner, for a spooky adventure including a frightening haunted house tour. Screams ring out as what you thought was a mannequin suddenly moves. Students also walk through a mysterious maze and a creepy ghost town.
On Sunday morning, the students are skeet shooting at Paul and Marilyn Bornbrock’s Farm and Ranch, 15 minutes east of Milk River. After a few tips from Fred Furlong on how to aim a shotgun, they let the lead fly. For many, it was their first time using a shotgun. They did amazingly well.
Also on tap this morning, trips into the valley to see the badlands, a wild game lunch and horseback riding. It was a great way to wrap up the first ever RhPAP skills event in Milk River.
Will some return to practice here?
“Before I came here, I never thought about doing healthcare in a rural setting but this experience has really opened my eyes to the positives and the advantages of doing that,” says Vaneet Randhawa.
“The nurses here, they know so much and they get to do so much in all aspects instead of just one specialty. So, I would definitely love to come here,” says Leah Potter. “Yeah, me as well,” adds Jessica Boutin. “I’m actually surprised by how kind and generous and open and welcome everyone was.”
“I really liked seeing the rural setting. How collaborative and friendly the environment was. And rural medicine, in particular family medicine, has been something that I’ve really been considering over the past several months,” remarks Mohit Kumar.
Amy Horgus was very happy with the event and thanked her committee, the community, and RhPAP for helping to make it happen. She is optimistic that some of the students will return someday.
“The ultimate goal is to trigger some interest in this rural community, that they are going to make some form of connection with us, and that they are gonna say ‘you know what, I would like to come and see you guys again’. And if we can get them here again, I know we are going to get them here permanently because it is such an awesome community.”