Dr. Bert Reitsma has come a long way to become one of rural Alberta’s strongest advocates.
An accomplished surgeon, Dr. Reitsma began his career in the Netherlands, and during the past 45 years, has worked extensively in the academic and business world, including a stint with the University of Ottawa’s Surgery and Plastic Surgery Department. Feeling the urge to go back to hands-on patient care, Dr. Bert came west. He moved first to a practice in Barrhead, Alberta, and eventually landed in the Crowsnest Pass.
“This was the perfect fit,” says Dr. Reistma about working in Blairmore, where he has a practice and is a general surgeon. “With the rural setting, there is more close-knit communities. You know the patient … and it is personally rewarding to a physician.”
It was this love of rural that motivated him to become involved with the Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP), which would eventually become RhPAP.
“I really love to be a promoter of rural medicine in general and I see that there is quite a need for Albertans to have optimal access to medical and surgical care in general,” he says. “Albertans living rural still have a right to the best medical services. I think the most important thing to get more support in rural health care delivery is that you need a voice. RhPAP is known as a voice for rural.”
During his time with the organization this voice for rural has only gotten louder.
“The government has given RhPAP a new mandate: focus on the health care delivery system in rural Alberta rather than just the physicians,” explains Dr. Reitsma. “That is a challenge. But [RhPAP] took this challenge because we think that it is not only doctors that make a difference – they do – but [there are also] many support professions like nurse practitioners, physician assistants, technicians in the support systems, radio imaging, etc. We should also focus on the local communities, they should know what RhPAP is, and what we can do to get a better health care delivery system in their municipalities."
Dr. Reitsma is confident that RhPAP is up to its new challenge. “We should have an advocate for focusing on the labour part of healthcare, the municipalities and on the execution of health care by the government,” he says. “RhPAP is very happy that the government has turned to us to advise them on access to care for all Albertans. We have the experience and commitment in our organization to be able to make a difference.”