Corey Ziegler was one of a group of medical students that were part of a recent #SMARoadmap trip to northern Saskatchewan communities to learn more about rural and remote health care. (Photo via Saskatchewan Medical Association on Twitter.)

SMARoadmap trip provides hands-on experience

My name is Corey Ziegler, a first-year medical student, and I recently had the privilege of being part of the Saskatchewan Medical Association Roadmaps experience up to Buffalo Narrows and Île-à-la-Crosse.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association Roadmaps program introduces medical students to various rural medicine facilities and opportunities during the course of a weekend.

The excitement of boarding a chartered plane for the 500-kilometre journey north was just the opening foray into what promised to be an extraordinary day.  The energy amongst 30 or so of my medical colleagues was palpable as we disembarked into the beautiful community of Buffalo Narrows.  A tour of their health facility by the director of the health region, a nurse practitioner, and a doctor who had practised in the north for over 30 years, provided the opportunity to get a sense of northern community health practice from multiple perspectives.

We then boarded a bus for the half hour trip up the road to the main health center for the region at Île-à-la-Crosse. The St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Centre is a shining example of collaboration between the provincial Ministries of Health and Education. 

In 2001, Dr. Michael Tymchak, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Regina, authored a paper entitled “SchoolPlus: A vision for children and youth.” The paper encouraged governments to consider schools as key hubs for capital investiture in communities. His vision prioritized an intersectoral model that could provide a variety of government services out of schools as the collaborative centre hub of a multi-spoked wheel.

In addition to being physically attached to the community’s high school, the community health centre in Île-à-la-Crosse includes an 11-bed acute care hospital with emergency department, radiology and labs. Community health services include public health, mental health, a family healing centre and a 17-bed long term care wing.  This is the kind of centre where physicians who want to make a difference -- not just for individual patients, but for an entire community -- come to practice.

There were myriad opportunities for bridge-building between different segments of the community’s population. The excitement of various health personnel being part of a community vision was contagious as we toured the facility and engaged in various medical skill building activities such as suturing, casting broken arms, and learning to use ultrasound for precision ulnar nerve blocks.

As a result of this trip, my own passions toward rural and northern health care have been stoked and honed.  I am increasingly convinced of the value of intersectoral collaborative models to help promote the well-being of Saskatchewan communities and envision a future of practising medicine that includes this kind of health centre.  When it comes time for the next SMA Roadmaps tour, I will definitely be on the bus and looking forward to experiencing other innovative and exciting health initiatives happening in our province!

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