Prior to 2013, the Bassano Medical Clinic was in dire need of another physician.
For some time, Dr. James Richards had been the sole full-time practitioner in Bassano, using locum assistance to take infrequent vacations.
Recognizing it was time for help, the Bassano Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee (BPRRSC) began working proactively to help attract medical staff in 2009.
Enter a Physician Assistant
Physician assistant, Linda Parrish, was the first hire in 2013.
Parrish had completed 25 years of Canadian Armed Forces service as a medic and physician assistant. She was looking for a change when she heard about a Alberta Health Services physician assistant program, with openings in Calgary and Bassano.
“[Bassano] just sounded more in my wheelhouse,” said Parrish. “It was practicing family medicine, it was part of a team-based approach, and it was a smaller community, which really appealed to me.”
Parrish opted to go rural, and soon others came. Today the hospital has successfully reached its cap of 2.5 physicians.
Dr. Damilola Awolesi came to Bassano in 2016.
“It’s a place [with] the kind of practice I want,” said Dr. Awolesi, noting it checked the boxes of being a clinic, and hospital, with in-patient care and an emergency room.
He said he and his family are loved by the community.
“They’re always willing to help, willing to assist,” he said, smiling when he said he’s learning how to play golf.
Dr. Leena El-Isa found a part-time weekend roll in Bassano in 2017, and is grateful for the support from the community.
“There has [always been] lots of support from day one,” said El-Isa. “They helped me to settle and to meet all my needs, especially at the very beginning, and after that, I know that support is available.”
She also likes the community events her and her family can attend together.
For Ron Wickson, town councillor, chair of Bassano Health Foundation and member of the BPRRSC, hearing the words of his local medical staff affirmed his town had more to offer in their eyes than he realized.
“We work really hard in trying to attract people, but it’s really nice to know that people are attracted to this spot,” said the retired school teacher. “It’s this variety, it’s this practice, it’s the fact that you can sharpen all your skills and work in a team environment. All of that really adds to the experience.”
Moving forward, the BPRRSC continues to work to steward their staff through community parties celebrating them, and to showcase rural medicine to students in high school and postsecondary by teaming up with RhPAP and AHS. As part of their efforts, they hosted an RhPAP Skills Weekend in 2017, and have done skills events with high school students.
“We are not an island in doing this work,” said Wickson with confidence.
He also recognizes the benefits of having a long-time staffer in Dr. James Richards, who draws in practicum students through his relationships with post-secondary institutions like the University of Calgary.
“When they walk away from this experience, they’re not going to forget it,” said Wickson. “We may find some of those people coming back.”.
Wickson’s BPRRSC and town councillor peer, Kelly Christman, is pleased.
“I think we should be very happy with our success, recognizing we always have more work to do,” said Christman.
Sue Harris, a primary care nurse who practised 45 years in Bassano, is proud of her team.
“I think what’s made our rural team very successful is everyone is truly valued,” said Harris.
She also loves the small community she calls home that describes as supportive and full of great people.
“I think that it’s a super town for people to move to,” said Harris.
Dr. El-Isa loves the decision she made to work at the Bassano Medical Clinic.
“It has been a very rewarding experience [for] me,” said Dr. El-Isa. “I’m very glad that I did it.”
- Article and Video by Britton Ledingham