Rural doctor shortage examined

A Sundre physician is searching for a new way to encourage medical students to work in rural areas.
Dr. Carol Rowntree is concerned about finding a doctor to eventually replace her.
Now she’s working to identify students interested in rural practice and has put a rural physician mentorship program in place for 11 students at the University of Calgary.
Results of Rowntree’s one-year study could be used to develop programs to encourage more students to look at rural medicine.
Past studies show previous exposure to rural life, experience with some kind of overseas work, a history of volunteerism or community work, and an interest in family practice are common among rural doctors.
University of Calgary first-year medical student Kathy Unger said she’s not ruling out a rural medical career.
Unger, who grew up on a farm near Three Hills, said she likes the fact that rural doctors see a greater variety of patients.
She expects the current study could help boost interest in rural medicine.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Unger said. “There’s a lot of potential there for people to be more educated about what rural medicine is like.”
As a supporter of Rural Physician Action Plan, which is sponsoring the study, Unger said she’s learned more about the realities of rural practice, including the advantages.
Unger said students assume they’ll be limited to family practice, but specialists are known to work in rural Alberta near urban larger communities. Overhead costs are also cheaper for rural doctors, she added.
Ultimately Unger said her decision must take into consideration where her husband, also a medical student, wants to practice.
She could understand how single doctors may not want a rural lifestyle.
The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research is funding the study.