November 16, 2017 • Written in Medical Students Community Support Resident Physicians 0 Comments

• Written by Lucas Warren Jonathan Koch

Beauty. Opportunity. Diversity. Health professionals can find it all in one place – Fort McMurray.

Future doctors, nurses, and other soon-to-be health professionals discovered the best of this northern Alberta centre during an RhPAP’s Skills Weekend event, which took place in Fort McMurray and the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo from 30 September-1 October 2017.

More than 60 students studying a variety of health care disciplines participated in a weekend of fun and education in Wood Buffalo, learning medical skills alongside peers in other health care fields, while experiencing the beautiful Wood Buffalo region in the fall.

“We always talk about interdisciplinary collaboration, but it’s really cool seeing [it] first-hand and getting to know what the other profession’s scope of practice is and how our roles overlap,” says Anna, a first-year bilingual nursing student at the Faculté Saint-Jean. “I was surprised at how beautiful it is, I didn’t know how many trees were up here!”

Dr. Ravi Seyed Mahmoud, a recent graduate himself, believes that Wood Buffalo offers “opportunity never ending”.

“For anyone who comes up here, what they’ll find is that when you put so many people in one spot and you make them remote; all those people need all the same services, and anybody who comes up here can fill those services.”

The doctor is no stranger to RhPAP Skills Events. He participated in Skills Days in Rocky Mountain House and Three Hills as a medical student, and volunteered to teach suturing at the Fort McMurray event.

“You take for granted how much someone else has taught you. You see the students who are still fumbling with the sutures and you know at one point you were fumbling with the sutures. And so now you appreciate the people who taught you because your skills didn’t come from nowhere,” explains Doctor Rav. “It’s a very humbling experience, very rewarding and fun.”

Justine, a registered nurse in the emergency room at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, who volunteered to teach IV starts to the students, agrees.

“The opportunity to nurse here is great because we have a young population of nurses so you can move up in the ranks easily here and have more responsibility sooner.”

A unique part of this RhPAP Skills Weekend was that it was planned in partnership with the Associations Canadienne française de l'Alberta (ACFA) in Fort McMurray and the Faculté Saint-Jean’s Bilingual Nursing Program at the University of Alberta. With a pre-fire population of nearly 14,000 francophones, there is a great need for French speaking healthcare professionals.

“[Fort McMurray] is a very diverse community,” explains Jamie Desautels, Program Manager at the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo. “There are tons of requests for people saying, “I just want someone that I can talk to directly about my health issues, I want to talk with my doctor or nurse so that they can understand what I’m going through.”

“You can be sick and see the doctor, but it does not mean that the communication is well understood, because of the language barrier,” says Angelina Gionet, Directrice générale ACFA, regionale de Wood Buffalo who also explained how significant it was to finally attract a francophone doctor to the community. “It means that some stay here, because now they have a doctor. My husband was one of them. He was always worried because he couldn’t have his answers.”

A big part of attracting medical professionals to Fort McMurray is simply bringing them here to experience the community.

“When people first get here, they are shocked that there is so much and that we have families that thrive,” says Dana Allen, Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations for Regional Emergency Services in Wood Buffalo who volunteered at one of the skills stations. “[There is] a real sense of community that people don’t really think exists until they see the community itself.”

“We like to participate in welcoming these students because there are always people that look to live in rural places,” Angelina Gionet adds. “They can see the opportunities to live in a far region, because it’s another story to live in a place [like this].”

For Dr. Stephen Yam of Fort McMurray, the beauty of Fort McMurray holds tremendous appeal for anyone interested in working here.

“It’s honestly some of the cleanest air and the nicest night skies up here; it’s beautiful. Anywhere there isn’t houses, there’s just trees. There are trees everywhere – it’s just gorgeous.”


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