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Students tout benefits of year-long clerkship program in Meadow Lake

MEADOW LAKE - Three undergraduate students at the College of Medicine are the first to take a new program that has them staying in one rural community for the whole of their third-year clerkship.

Two students are based in Meadow Lake and one in Estevan as part of the Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (SLIC). They will stay for their third year in these centres rather than rotate clerkships among health centres within towns and cities across the province.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and saskdocs were recently invited to an event in Meadow Lake to recognize the establishment of the SLIC by the University of Saskatchewan.

“There are strengths in both programs, rotation-based and the LIC,” said Braydon Hager, a third-year medical student from Moose Jaw who has completed four weeks of the program in Meadow Lake.

“I feel like one of the biggest strengths of the LIC is continuity with your patients. I’m finding that even in the first three weeks, seeing patients in the ER, admitting them on the ward, and seeing them in the clinic later, you really get to have a good relationship with your patients and you get to know them more. That’s one of the biggest strengths.”

Working with a small group of physicians for his entire third year will also provide continuity and avoid the disruptions caused by rotating clerkships every few weeks, he said.

Evan Mah, a third-year medical student from Regina, said he hopes the program allows him to develop his own personal style without having to shift preceptors and adjust to new expectations and environments every few weeks.

“I personally like longitudinal care,” he said. “I found that when I spent time in the emergency rooms, I got stressed because I didn’t know what had happened after. We stabilize and then we ship away, whereas here, if I see someone in emerg I can book an appointment with the docs that I’m with later that week and I can see them later. I have seen patients over and over and it’s really nice exposure to follow a disease through its full process.”

He came to Meadow Lake during his first year on an SMA Roadmap tour, which takes medical students to rural Saskatchewan for a day to learn about a community and be exposed to rural health-care practices from physicians in those cities and towns.

“I got exposed to the community and the docs and what it would be like to practise here, and so I thought it would be a really good opportunity to spend time somewhere more rural and learn what medicine is like.”

Dr. Tara Lee, the SLIC director who is a Swift Current family physician, said the program has been a long time in the making. She started the residency program when she came to Swift Current in 2009 and saw the benefits of having students come into the community for work terms.

“We saw what the (residency) program did for my community, how important it was to changing the whole atmosphere of retaining students, and also teaching them here. The whole idea of being connected to the university and having a university program of students, it just changes the health-care community, and we’ve been able to retain so many or our students.”

The concept behind the SLIC program is essentially the same, only it involves third-year students during their clerkship.

“You immerse these students in a generalist community and provide their training in that one community,” Dr. Lee said. “They realize that these generalists can provide a lot of the types of health care that people need, and it changes their mindset. It changes their outlook.”

She noted the program is a needed investment of time, money and knowledge by the U of S into teaching medical students in rural and remote areas “because what we’ve been doing isn’t working.

“We need to retain and get students to come to rural areas. That’s an essential thing the university needs to do, and this is one of the ways to do it. We’ve been working on it. The thought has been there. The idea has been there and now it’s actually happening.”

Lindsay Richels is the student taking the SLIC in Estevan. A ceremony to mark the first program in that community is planned for later this month.

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