Doctors-to-be take the pulse of rural medicine

It is easy to be seduced by the glamour and resources of a metropolitan hospital or medical centre, but a rural community offers doctors a different kind of pace and practice.

Dr. Subhash (Shelly) Sharma has been practicing at the Four Counties Health Services in Newbury for 18 years and is glad he made the choice to work in a rural community.

“It’s very challenging and it’s very interesting,” he says.

For the next week, two first-year medical students from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry are shadowing Sharma and colleagues as part of Discovery Week, a program sending 169 students into hospitals and medical centres across southwestern Ontario to learn what it is like to live and work in rural and mid-sized communities.

“The aim is to educate medical students to make them more aware what rural facilities are like,” he says. “They get an opportunity to see how we practice medicine here which is a little different from the tertiary centres.”

At a smaller, rural hospital like Newbury (which supports about 15,000 people), doctors don’t have the luxury of referring patients to a specialist in another unit or using specialized technology like a CAT scan or a MRI machine. “The decisions have to be made by ourselves, here, by the local physicians,” he explains.

“We really practice medicine with the resources we have.”

Sharma has chosen to work in a small community because he enjoys the challenge. He works in the emergency department, look after patients admitted in the hospital and he has his own practice located within the hospital.

By mentoring the students, Sharma hopes students will recognize the benefits to practicing medicine outside large communities and understand some of the difficulties and frustrations facing rural practitioners in providing care.

“I hope they also see medicine is very interesting here because you get the opportunity to do almost everything,” he says. “You can call yourself ‘doctor’ because you provide care at all levels.”

The Rural Regional Program was started through the Southwestern Ontario Medical Education Network to encourage Schulich’s medical graduates to consider setting up practice in rural and underserviced areas. Communities also see this week as a recruiting opportunity for future physicians.

Along with shadowing physicians and other healthcare practitioners, students visit local high schools to answer questions about getting into medical school.

“It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another to be here,” says Januvi Jegatheswaran, a first-year medical student, noting the experience is putting the textbook knowledge into action.

“It’s different when you see it in a picture and you see a test done and see how it is done,” she adds.

Myuran Thana, also a first-year medical student, has quickly learned rural doctors need to be somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades and often follow a patient from diagnosis, treatment to discharge.

“It seems the doctors are more responsible from beginning to end and have to be more resourceful in their knowledge and skills,” Thana says. “It sounds like there is a lot to be learned. We’ll get an idea and it will help guide us in future choices.”