“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
― Albert Einstein
Five years ago, the Town of Tofield had a medical crisis.
Its normal compliment of three family physicians had shrunk to one.
“We were hitting the panic button,” exclaimed Kevin Smook, a local realtor and recently elected Reeve of Beaver County.
“You didn’t have an on-call doctor for after hours or anything,” added Charlotte Thompson, Clinical Manager at Kalyna Country Primary Care Network.
The doctor shortage led to the creation of the Tofield, Ryley, Beaver County Community Attraction and Retention Committee (CARC).
Both Smook and Thompson are now members of CARC.
While Alberta Health Services (AHS) is responsible for recruiting new physicians, CARC worked hand in hand with RhPAP on health professional attraction and retention efforts in the area. .
After potential recruits toured the Tofield Health Centre with the AHS site manager, committee members picked them up and showed them what the local area has to offer from a lifestyle perspective.
“We’d find out what their interests might be and guide them: ‘well, we do have a library in Tofield, and we have a swimming pool in Ryley.’” said Sandra Brolly, CARC member and retired registered nurse.
“We found out one [potential recruit from South Africa] was coming to look at our community and had never been to an ice hockey game,” explains Cyndy Heslin, CARC chairperson.
“So, we took him to an ice hockey game in Edmonton, and they were fascinated by it.”
Alongside AHS, CARC was successful in convincing two new physicians to come and practise in Tofield, Dr. Racha Sabha and Dr. Mursi Jallad. They joined Dr. Salahdine Abuzehar at the Tofield Medical Clinic.
In 2020, with a full complement of physicians in Tofield, CARC’s focus shifted to retention, and not only of physicians, but all health professionals.
CARC’s many activities included organizing drive-by appreciation parades for health-care providers, delivering baked treats to everyone at the Tofield Health Centre during Nurses Week, providing a gift for Dr. Abuzehar on his fifth anniversary of practising in Tofield, and upgrading the quality of internet service at the hospital by purchasing a Wi-Fi booster and putting it on the roof.
CARC also received a list of new hires regularly from the Tofield Health Centre and sent them handwritten thank-you cards for choosing to join the team in Tofield.
One of CARC’s biggest accomplishments was hosting a skills weekend for 36 nursing and medicine students from the University of Alberta, which showcased the whole community.
“RhPAP came right alongside us and guided us through every step we needed to make.”
– Cyndy Heslin.
Local health professionals hosted medical skill stations at the Tofield Health Centre to highlight local careers during the day on Saturday. For the rest of the weekend, participants enjoyed recreational eventsincluding a community dinner, a bull bash rodeo event, music and darts at a local café, and paintballing and a wiener roast at a nearby lake that were organized by CARC.
For the first time ever at an RhPAP-sponsored skills event, students in Tofield were billeted instead of staying at a hotel.
“We tried to show them the rural life, and that was the best part of billeting,” said Heslin.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a rural experience, and [I found] people are so welcoming.” commented Shankar Jha, a first-year medical student who participated in the event.
“The skills weekend was excellent,” said Smook. “It did better than we could have imagined.”
It wasn’t long before the skills weekend paid dividends.
One of the attending students, Jenn Voegtlin, returned to Tofield shortly after graduating to practise as a registered nurse.
Congratulations to the Tofield, Ryley and Beaver County Community Attraction and Retention Committee, recipients of the 2021 RhPAP Rhapsody Community Award.