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Medical students get taste of rural life

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 06/1/2018 8:15 AM

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University of Manitoba first-year medical students Kristen Gray and Anna Melanson pause midway through their day at the De Salaberry District Health Centre with director of health services, Norman Vigier.


University of Manitoba first-year medical students Kristen Gray and Anna Melanson pause midway through their day at the De Salaberry District Health Centre with director of health services, Norman Vigier.


Small groups of first-year medical students are spending five days in communities across the Southeast to learn more about living and working in rural areas.

The result of an annual collaboration between the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine, Manitoba Healthcare Providers Network, regional health authorities, and community groups, this year’s Rural Week runs May 28 through June 1, and deposits 114 students into a variety of rural health care settings across Manitoba.

Southern Health is hosting 34 of those students in 13 communities, including Steinbach, Niverville, Ste Anne, St Pierre, Vita, and Morris, said physician resource coordinator Shannon Noel.

Rural Week follows a day-long visit to Steinbach by the Rural Interest Group, an arm of the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association, last month.

At the De Salaberry District Health Centre in St Pierre, fresh from shadowing physicians completing inpatient rounds and joining a public health nurse visiting new mothers, but before tagging along for home visits with a palliative care team, students Kristen Gray and Anna Melanson said Tuesday their experiences were already producing a more nuanced portrait of rural medicine.

"Everything is so integrated," Melanson, a Winnipeg resident originally from Poland, said, comparing her impressions of St Pierre to time spent at Health Sciences Centre and St Boniface Hospital.

As the week progressed, Melanson said she hoped to learn more about patient care in St Pierre.

"I think we’ve actually seen quite a bit of a difference in palliative care," she said, as patients seemed to her to have "a lot more one-on-one care" and more private living quarters.

Gray, raised in Cochrane, Ont., a town of 5,300, said she was enjoying the chance to reconnect with a rural atmosphere.

She and Melanson went golfing with a local pharmacist Monday, and planned to complete community tours of St Malo and Otterburne before visiting the Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach yesterday.

Southern Health coordinates the medical activities, while the Rat River Health Council arranges the community outings and local accommodations.

Norman Vigier, director of health services at De Salaberry District Health Centre, said he always jumps at the chance to host Rural Week students, as he wants to ensure they have an accurate sense of life inside and outside the walls of a rural health care facility.

"We want them to experience the entire culture of rural life," he said.

With a clinic, palliative and long-term care wings, and public health and home care offices, De Salaberry can accommodate a range of student interests, Vigier said.

"They can see the whole continuum of care under one roof here."

According to Vigier, Rural Week also helps to dispel the myth that practicing rural medicine is isolating.

"I’m hoping they see that we work very closely as a team."

While Gray said students who want to pursue certain specialized fields like cardiology will likely wind up in Winnipeg, Melanson said broader considerations matter too.

"I think a lot of students also consider lifestyle, not just how much are you working, but where you do work and what connections you build."

Gray said she’d consider situating herself outside a major centre if it can accommodate the field of medicine she chooses.

"I’d happily move somewhere rural if that was where I was going to get the specialty I wanted," she said.

Vigier acknowledged St Pierre mainly needs general practitioners, but noted Southern Health’s three regional facilities—Bethesda in Steinbach, Boundary Trails in Winkler, and the District General Hospital in Portage la Prairie—employ surgeons, oncologists, and obstetricians.

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