Locum physician pounds the pavement - film crew in tow
Dr. Samantha Henley puts the ‘doc’ in documentary.
She appeared in a documentary for the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) entitled: On the Front Lines of Rural and Remote Health Care in Saskatchewan. She got along with producers and crew, and they suggested doing a show based on her life and work.
Dr. Henley, a physician with the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s locum program, travels the quiet country blacktop from stop to stop in her home on wheels – an RV. She settles in, along with her two dogs, wherever the road ends and the job begins. As unique as that sounds, add a camera crew to the mix, filming her interactions with potential patients for a six-part television series to air in early 2020.
“They heard about my travelling lifestyle, and we just kept in touch after the SUN project, and they kept saying, ‘We should do a show with you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and they said, ‘Are you ready for a camera in your face 24/7?’ I said, ‘No.’
“We ended up coming up with this idea to follow me around in an RV doing different events and covering it from there, but the concept ended up changing. They’re following me around in the RV, but there are fewer events and lots more medical-based kinds of things.”
The working title is “Mobile MD,” but Dr. Henley wants to call it, “The Redneck Medic Adventures,” after her long-standing nickname.
Taking the road less travelled
Dr. Henley was born in England and moved with her family to Ontario when she was five. She left high school to return to the U.K., where she worked odd jobs in England and Scotland. She took night classes to get into university, received a degree in pharmacology from Newcastle University, and got into medical school at the University of Aberdeen.
She started her Foundation Year 1 training (junior house officer) in Aberdeen but left to move to Saskatchewan to complete her Family Medicine Residency. There were problems with the government of Canada over her permanent resident status. She took the government to court and won her residency status on the day CARMS applications were due.
As a locum physician, Dr. Henley often takes the road less travelled. She’s worked in Leader, Assiniboia, Eston, Kipling, La Ronge, Porcupine Plain, and Hudson Bay.
“There’s places I’ve never heard of. Some days I’ll have no idea where I’m going today,” she said as she stopped her RV at the SMA offices in Saskatoon on her way to film in Hanley. Rural Saskatchewan is – in a word – “awesome.” It’s far removed from her life experiences formed in Ontario and the U.K.
“When you’re growing up they talk about Saskatchewan and foreign places in social environmental studies,” she said, “and all you’re kind of aware of is it’s flat as a pancake, straight as a ruler, lots of long roads, and your nearest neighbour might be a kilometre or two away. Growing up in suburbia where you could throw a rock at your neighbour’s window from your window, you’re like, ‘Nah, it sounds crazy,’ and you come here and you’re like, ‘I can totally see how that’s a thing.’ ”
She talks about the excitement of seeing her first wheat field, and how welcoming people in rural Saskatchewan are to a stranger showing up in an RV to take over their medical care.
“In small-town Saskatchewan people are really nice,” she said. “I like working in the hospitals because most people are appreciative that you’re there to help and they like that you can give a fresh approach to things because you come from somewhere else with different training and different ideas and experiences.”
Acclimatizing to Saskatchewan was as easy as adjusting to a camera in her face.
“Normally when there is a camera somewhere I get really nervous, my voice starts to shake. I even had a bit of difficulty trying to do that (SUN) documentary a while ago,” Dr. Henley said. “We were just talking about the acclimatization to being in front of camera. It was really weird because I wasn’t bothered with this from day one. They were like, ‘Your acclimatization period was, like, two hours.’ That was that and we started shooting.”
It is important to the producers for the show to have a positive medical education component - so the audience can learn about various ailments and the importance of seeking medical attention. She will see a previously screened patient in their home or her RV, do a basic history or exam, and summarize what the patient needs, whether treatment or a referral.
“The camera crew are like family. We’re one big friendly team,” she said. “As a producer on the show now, I’m able to put in my input. I’m able to say, ‘Hey this would be a really good shot,’ or, ‘I want to redo that again because I don’t want to be misunderstood.’ ”
Dr. Henley is a doc in motion, but she’s putting down roots in the province. She bought an acreage near Marquis, and next summer she hopes to be the attending physician for a rural rodeo circuit.
“It’s fun but it’s hard work and it’s constant,” she said. “I haven’t had a break. I might get two days off but that’s two days to mow my lawn, fix something, try to wash the RV, do laundry and clean up.”
And then she’s gone again – venturing off the beaten track to the next stop along her journey.