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21st - Mar

On the road again: Physician mentors join medical learners on Roadmap program trips to small-town Saskatchewan

Drs. Stephanie Nyberg and Chelsea Wilgenbusch are on the road again – mentoring medical students as part of the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s (SMA) Roadmap program.

They travelled the province as students on Roadmap tours, stopping at communities from Estevan to La Loche, and points in between. But now they’re physicians, imparting their knowledge of rural medicine on medical learners who sign up for the Roadmap trips to small-town Saskatchewan.

They have accepted new positions with the SMA as Physician Mentors for the Roadmap program, which aims to expose students and residents to the practise of medicine in communities that have limited resources, and to the communities themselves and what they have to offer a prospective physician.

“The Roadmap program kind of sparked my interest in rural medicine,” said Dr. Nyberg. “When I started medical school I thought I’d want to be a gynae, and then I started going on these Roadmap tours and got to thinking, ‘Oh, family medicine could be interesting.’

“As I went through medical school I went on these tours and you get to see how these physicians work and see the diversity of their practice, and see that every day is a little bit different. That’s when I decided I wanted to do rural specifically.”

Dr. Nyberg was born in Prince Albert but moved around the province with her family. Her dad worked for Pioneer Grain and would be transferred as one elevator after another was closed. She went to high school in Regina, completed degrees in physiology and pharmacology at the U of S, and entered medical school, graduating in 2015.

Dr.  Wilgenbusch, who is from Wilkie, received all of her university training at the U of S and also graduated in 2015. She began her career in Melfort after receiving her anesthesia training. Having lived in rural Saskatchewan before entering university, she knew that was the life for her, her husband and their four dogs.

“I always grew up in a smaller community,” she said. “I enjoyed living in Saskatoon. I liked a lot of the amenities of the city but I just found myself yearning for that community feel and just being able to drive to work in under two minutes, or walk to work and knowing your patients, knowing your friends, and having them be your neighbours as well was always something that really appealed to me. I’ve just always liked the atmosphere of a small town.”

She took part in five trips during the Roadmap program’s inaugural year, which opened her eyes to communities and practice options across Saskatchewan.

“I started to consider rural practice when I started going on the Roadmap tours,” Dr. Wilgenbusch said. “I was from a small town and always thought I liked small-town life, but I didn’t really know what small town practice was like.”

The more they looked around during the latter stages of their medical training, the more they found that Melfort offered the opportunities they were seeking in their careers, in the context of rural Saskatchewan.

Rural practice offers variety for physicians

“I have never been the type of person who wants to sit in a clinic for five days a week and do clinic all the time,” said Dr. Nyberg. “I like the ability to do emergency room work, obstetrical work, in-patient work, just have variety in my life a little bit and to keep my skills active. Professionally, that’s why I went to work rurally. And I find in the smaller towns you get to know your patients at more than a medical level. You see them out in town and you get to know their social network and their social determinants a little bit better first-hand.”

Earlier this winter, she made the long bus trip from Saskatoon to Hudson Bay for the first Roadmap stop of 2019. It brought back memories of time spent on the buses and planes travelling to rural and remote locations.

“It’s just good to see students coming together outside medicine, to hang out in less of an academic setting where they can open up a little bit more. They were really interested in seeing how rural medicine is delivered at the hospital in Hudson Bay and what kind of technology they had available, what lab tests, what physicians actually got to do because most of them haven’t been exposed to anything outside the city. They have no idea what it means to be a rural physician for the most part, except when they go on these tours.”

The two physicians don’t know yet where the mentorship position will take them, or how it will develop in time.

“I want to ensure that the students get exposed to as much rural experience as possible, and the right amount of exposure to make a good, informed decision,” said Dr. Nyberg.

Dr. Wilgenbusch went on her first trip as a mentor to Meadow Lake, where she spent time as a student. She hopes to make connections beginning next year with first-year students, and to become a “sounding board” for them, following them through medical school and beyond, answering questions and helping them make decisions.

“I’m excited to be back on the Roadmap tours and back to seeing the breadth of family medicine across the province, seeing different practice styles and how other physicians cope with the stresses and struggles of rural medicine. I’m learning again from other people, just in a different role.”

Click here for more information on the Roadmap program.

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