Alexandra Bond, SMP 2015
Growing up in large urban centres for most of my life, the idea of practicing medicine and living in a rural city seemed implausible and was pushed to the fringe of opportunity for me. However, the month I spent in Port McNeill, BC for my rural family practice clerkship has shifted my whole paradigm. I immediately felt at home in this delightful town of 2,700 people. Situated right on the ocean shores and enriched with unique cultural influences, Port McNeill’s charm and personality captured me from day one.
Not only did the allure of the small-town feel intrigue me, but the medicine was also incredibly exciting and unique. As a doctor (or medical student) in a small town and often the only one on call, you carry the responsibility of being frontline in any medical emergency, which requires building proficiency in many different facets of medicine. Although this responsibility carries with it a certain level of apprehension, it is also an exceedingly exhilarating and rewarding experience. In the words of a Port McNeill physician, Dr. Granger Avery, rural medicine attracts the “rational risk-takers”, a concept that continues to enthrall my appetite for adventure.
The five doctors working in the Port McNeill Hospital and Medical Clinic were exceptionally supportive and eager to teach. I had ample time to learn one-on-one from each of the five physicians, who established an outstandingly positive learning environment, making the learning curve much easier to climb. My colleagues and I were encouraged to be as hands-on as possible and we subsequently gained valuable clinical skills that are not so easily acquired in a classroom setting. The push to take on more responsibility also allowed us to gain more confidence in our medical knowledge and aptitude. Furthermore, the small town feel enhanced the cohesiveness I felt while working closely alongside nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, medical office assistants, and care aids as part of the medical team in Port McNeill.
From the wellness perspective, I was at first concerned that my experience in rural medicine would be quite isolating. However, the physicians encouraged us to get out and explore the community as much as time permitted. My colleagues and I accompanied some of the doctors on crabbing adventures and fishing expeditions. Dragon boating with one of the nurses and her crew was an unexpected highlight, as was camping and hiking on Sointula, a small island next to Port McNeill. I also had the opportunity to meet some of the incredibly talented First Nations carvers on Alert Bay Island. For those with a love of adventure, the recreational opportunities in Port McNeill were endless and readily available, which made for an easily achievable work-life balance.
My most memorable experience in Port McNeill was the helicopter ride to Rivers Inlet, a small First Nations community of 100 people on the western coast of the mainland. The unique medical issues within this community opened my eyes to the diversity of rural medicine and the importance of rural physicians to be flexible and open-minded.
Between the exciting medical experience and opportunity for unlimited recreational activities, Port McNeill has given me the perfect taste of rural medicine, which is inspiring me to pursue a career as a rural physician. I was overcome with a feeling of homesickness the minute I left Port McNeill and would love to return to this charming, oceanside community as a physician. Although my clerkship years will be spent in a big city, the “rational risk-taker” in me is eager to return to the rural community one day.