It may be the largest influx of medical professionals Fort St. John has seen in some time — and they’re only here for three days.
Next week, a troupe of 18 doctors, medical students and instructors from across British Columbia will visit Fort St. John and two other Peace River schools as part of the Healthcare Traveling Roadshow.
“We’re going and talking to kids in high schools to try to get them think of careers they may not have thought of,” said Dr. Sean Maurice, a senior lab instructor for the Northern Medical Program out of the University of Northern BC, which is spearheading the tour.
“In smaller towns, there’s probably less exposure to these professions. When you’re in Fort St. John or Fort Nelson, going down to university in the Lower Mainland is a long ways away, and is bigger barrier to overcome to do that kind of training,” he said.
The seven-day event runs from June 7 to 13, and will hit high school students in Fort St. John June 8 to 10, and will also make a stop in Dawson Creek June 11, and a final stop in Tumbler Ridge on June 12.
The goal is to spark some inspiration in students so that they might pursue healthcare careers, ultimately returning to the Northeast to practice and helping to combat continued doctor shortages in the region.
“If we can inspire anybody to think about what they haven’t thought of before, it could have really long lasting benefits for the province and your town,” Maurice said.
The group this year includes a mix of medical students and professionals from a host of schools across a range of disciplines including medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, dentistry, medical lab technologies, biomedical engineering, and midwifery.
Maurice said students will be able to rub shoulders with and chat one on one with doctors and students about their careers and studies, at the same time getting a chance to work with skeletons, microscopes, bacterial plates, and other equipment the team will be bringing with them.
“It’s very hands on,” he said.
Among the students who will be visiting is Fort St. John resident Quinn Gentles, who has just finished his second year of medicine.
Gentles was 15 when a snowboarding accident left the left side of his body paralyzed. He was hospitalized for a month, but, with the help of intensive therapy from a dozen specialists, he was able to regain much of his function. Later, in high school he decided to pursue medicine himself, after a career push and volunteer work at the Fort St. John hospital.
“I got a first hand account of why their work matters,” said Gentles, now 24.
“Being able to spend time in the Fort St. John hospital volunteering, seeing how doctors and nurses and other members of the team work together, was the game changer for me.”
Gentles added the roadshow will help dispel some myths about working in the health care industry that one needs to have a straight-A academic record, or be a math and science whiz, or have a lot of money.
Gentles said his classmates come from a wide-range of backgrounds, from arts to literature to film. He added there is “tremendous support” for for rural and northern students pursuing health careers, including scholarships, grants and bursaries.
“I firmly believe exposure like this at the early stage of high school gives kids the confidence and drive they need to pursue this,” Gentles said.
The show first hit the road in 2010 following Rural Health Workforce Symposium held the year prior in Prince George.
The university has since visited hundreds of students in communities across northern BC, including Clearwater, Fort Nelson and Kitimat.
Participating schools include UNBC, the University of British Columbia, College of New Caledonia, University of Victoria, British Columbia Institute of Technology, and Thompson Rivers University.