SMA Roadmap Program shows medical students the benefits of working in Prince Albert and rural areas

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Medical students practised suturing as part of a tour of Victoria Hospital as the SMA Roadmap Program paid a visit to Prince Albert on Saturday.

Medical students and family medicine residents travelled to Prince Albert on Saturday, Aug. 26 as part of the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s (SMA) Roadmap Program.

While in Prince Albert, students and residents learned about the residency training program that was established in the city. The SMA and local health officials organize one-day tours for students and family medicine residents.

Medical learners tour the host community and spend time with physicians and community members.

Dr. Annelie Van Rensburg is a family physician who works in the ER at the Victoria Hospital, and is also the Site Director for the hospital’s Family Medicine Program. She said the Roadmap Program helps introduce first and second-year medical students from the University of Saskatchewan to the medical community, while showcasing the city.

“The idea is to show them what it is like to be a practising physician in Prince Albert and then we tell them about the opportunities for them to come and do electives,” Van Rensburg said.

This was the first Roadmap Tour to come to Prince Albert in more than a decade so Van Rensburg was excited to have it back.

“COVID shut down a lot of these personal tours. We are very excited to have them and to promote the medical community in Prince Albert and the city itself,” Van Rensburg said.

She said that the city is part of a clinical clerkship where medical students can be placed in Prince Albert for 18 months and then in the Family Medicine Training Program.

It’s a two-year program that trains seven medical students at a time to become family physicians in Prince Albert. Students can also come to Prince Albert to do electives and come back to the city for a couple of weeks during their studies.

Van Rensburg said the Roadmap was designed to get them involved in the community with the goal of retaining them in the future.

“What the U of S is thinking is if you train physicians in rural and family medicine programs, then your retention is good, then they might stay in the community,” she said.

She gave the example of Dr. Ben Roth who is currently working in the city. He studied at McMaster and came to do an elective in Prince Albert. After graduating, he returned to her family medicine program and stayed in the community.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Medical students played a game of Jeopardy as part of a tour of Victoria Hospital as the SMA Roadmap Program paid a visit to Prince Albert on Saturday.

“The best evidence is that if you train them in the sites, they stay in the sites,” Van Rensburg said. “That is what Saskatchewan needs. We need physicians in rural communities.”

Although Prince Albert is not rural, it does offer a rural program that allows students to branch out.

In the Family Medicine Training program, students work a total of 28 weeks at a rural site. The first year, they do two months in either Nipawin or Île-à-la-Crosse. Then in the second year, they go to different sites for 20 weeks.

“They work in a regional (hospital), like here (in Prince Albert), but then they go out and get a lot of exposure to rural medicine,” Van Rensburg explained.

When the program is finished, the students can work in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Nipawin or Melfort because they are equipped to do both urban and rural medicine.

“That’s the beautiful thing about it,” Van Rensburg said. “Then we’ve had a lot of retention from my family medicine residents when they graduate from my program and they stay in Saskatchewan. We have a very good retention rate for Saskatchewan.”

Eriq Marleau, a second-year medical student who is originally from Star City, was one of several students who took part in the tour on Saturday. He said the day had been amazing.

“Prince Albert has some fantastic facilities,” Marleau said. “The physicians, the staff here, the clerks in the residents that all came out have been super welcoming, (and) very willing to answer any questions that anybody has and very just helpful and welcoming and excited that we’re here.”

The tour had 28 students who were broken up into groups of six. Each group went through the Victoria Hospital tour stations, which included suturing, casting and a medical Jeopardy game.

Marleau said tour has allowed them to take the things they learned in university and put them to practical use.

“We get to practice, which is something we haven’t done within our college yet, so it’s an enriching experience for our learning as well,” Marleau said. “Suturing is just something that’s the bread and butter of any doctor, so it’s good to get more practice.”

The tour also got him interested in returning to Prince Albert.

“I’ve talked to a couple of the former clerks or the former three years that have been here and they’ve all raved about it, so myself, I’m interested in doing rural,” he said.

Marleau said that he was interested in returning to his home area and doing training in Melfort but Prince Albert was also high on his list. Training in rural medicine in Prince Albert and then returning to Melfort is also an option.

“It’s a fantastic facility,” Marleau said of Victoria Hospital. “I’ve heard the physicians here are great for supporting students and I’ve heard of a lot of people coming to P.A. for the residency and staying here because it’s a great place to live and work.

“It’s a great looking hospital and, in the presentation we got, it sounds like they’re doing a lot of upgrades and additions on to it to make it more comprehensive as well. It’s already a fairly comprehensive hospital, which is exciting.”

In the morning, Elder Liz Settee gave a prayer and they had greetings from the representatives from the City of Prince Albert. In the afternoon, Kistahpinanihk Paddling Club volunteered to do a paddling session at the boat house on River Street. Fresh Air Experience also lent the tour some bikes.

The students had the option of paddling, biking or hiking at Little Red, or biking on the Rotary Trail. In the evening the day concluded at the Knotty Pine Bistro at Little Red.

Van Rensburg said she involved as many locally owned businesses as she could to show them how passionate the community of Prince Albert is. She thanked all of the local people who volunteered their free time on a Saturday to assist with the program.

Van Rensburg said Prince Albert is a hidden gem, and she wanted to show students the benefits of living here.

“You have all the amenities and you are close to Saskatoon if you fly out. You’re close to up north to the lakes and … if you want to be out of Prince Albert as your base one day as a family physician, you can do rural clinics. You can commute to those (communities),” she said.

“We introduce you to the community,” she added. “You’re never going to know if you’re not from here, and hopefully this will spread word of mouth from the students who were not here to maybe consider us one day and it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Marleau was also grateful for the opportunity.

“I’m just really thankful for the SMA to provide this opportunity and for P.A. for being willing to host a bunch of us students,” he said. “I think this is beneficial to our learning to explore rural and regional (medicine). It’s part of a curriculum that we don’t often get as much unless we seek it out, so it’s really exciting to be here and it’s I think it’s a great place to be and a great thing to maybe coax some people out of the city a little bit more.”